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BusinessDay: Open AI’s ChatGPT and the end of Google search?

It could happen that we shall only find the term in dictionaries in the future.


By Johan Steyn, 15 February 2023


Technology companies have had a profound effect on our daily lives over many decades, so much so that some of their brand names have become linked with the actions they enable.


One company was once a dominant player in the photography industry and its name has become synonymous with taking photographs. Another was once a major player in the video rental industry and its name has become associated with popular and successful movies or TV shows.


Then there was a company whose name became linked with the process of copying documents and it has been used as a verb for many decades. Another has become the go-to destination for internet shopping.


One company’s name has become linked to short-form microblogging. More recently — especially during the pandemic lockdown months — another company’s name became a deponent for holding virtual meetings. Then there was the company whose name has become a slang phrase that means to watch streaming videos and relax or spend time with a romantic partner.


By now you may have guessed it. I am referring to Kodak and Blockbuster. The former filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and the other went out of business in 2013. I am also writing about Xerox, and Amazon which have become synonymous with online shopping. To “tweet” means to post short updates or messages on the social media platform Twitter. To “zoom” has come to mean holding a virtual meeting or video conference using the Zoom platform. To “Netflix and chill” has become a slang phrase that means to watch Netflix and relax or spend time with a romantic partner.


But wait, there is more. The most prevalent technology term in our age is to google something. The company has become so synonymous with an internet search that it is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb.


With the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI), the world is expanding from AI as a tool for automation and pattern recognition in massive data sets to a way of producing human-like generated content. Generative pretrained large language AI models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT are causing a firestorm. It is heating up the AI arms race for world domination. Previous disrupters such as Google are on high alert.


Google’s leaders were reported to have issued a national state of emergency, a “code red”, to address the threat to their main source of income: advertising sales from internet searches. However, Google faced a costly embarrassment recently when it was revealed that its ChatGPT rival, Bard — demonstrated in a promotional video — gave an incorrect answer to a question.


The video showed the chatbot suggesting that the James Webb space telescope by Nasa was used to capture the first images of exoplanets outside our solar system, which was incorrect. The news caused a drop of over $100bn in market value for Alphabet, Google’s parent company.


This blunder only adds to the growing concern that Google is falling behind in its core area to Microsoft, a major supporter of OpenAI. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently announced the long-awaited inclusion of OpenAI’s model to its Bing internet browser.


One has to wonder: will ChatGPT force the behemoth that is Google search to the history books, akin to Xerox and Blockbuster?


• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of AIforBusiness.net


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