Got Questions? ChatGPT May Be Better Than Google for Many Straight Answers

And all without the spam

  • ChatGPT can generate answers to questions instead of forcing you to search. 
  • Those answers aren’t always the best.
  • Google is on high alert, sensing impending irrelevance.
Three people sitting on couch all pointing at a laptop screen on a small table in front of them.

John Schnobrich / Unsplash

Google is apparently terrified by Chat GPT, and it should be. Instead of trawling through spammy SEO junk to find an answer, you can just ask the 'bot and get a more than good enough answer.

Google is undoubtedly a modern wonder. Type a query and get a whole list, tens of thousands of entries long, of all the websites with an answer. Before Google, most of the web was dark, search was hit or miss, and mostly miss. Google's magic algorithm managed to surface the most relevant and most popular sites. But this is also Google's biggest problem.

"Google gives you information from a variety of reliable, up-to-date sources, though you might have to sift through a few to find what you're looking for. On the other hand, ChatGPT generates human-like, conversational responses in seconds, but the information might not always be accurate," Jennifer Finley, manager at academic ranking service Academic Influence told Lifewire via email.

Rank Results

The trouble with Google is that it doesn’t do what we think it does. Or rather, it doesn’t do what we want it to do. Google is a search engine that returns a list of websites relevant to your query. But only rarely do we search for a website. What we really want are answers to the questions we type in.

Google’s other problem is its algorithm. A whole industry has grown up around gaming Google’s algorithm in order to get spammy, low-quality websites high up in the search results. This search engine optimization (SEO) means that you often have to pick through pages of results to get to a website that is not algorithmically generated to look like a match for your question. 

ChatGPT generates human-like, conversational responses in seconds, but the information might not always be accurate.

Then ChatGPT came along. It’s a chatbot that answers your questions, among many other abilities, and it does this by drawing on the entirety of the web. ChatGPT’s machine-learning core has read the internet, assimilated it, and can use that knowledge to generate answers, which it then gives to you straight. ChatGPT cuts out the middle person, as it were. 

Google has tried to provide similarly straight answers to straight queries, and you’ll often see them at the top of the search results. But Google has also gotten into trouble over scraping the data for these results from websites and presenting it without attribution. 

This is why Google is so scared. We don’t search Google to find websites. We search it to find answers. And if another service can give us those answers without all the spam, and requiring us to click through to websites and then search those for the information we need, then who wouldn’t prefer it?

Good For… Everything

ChatGPT’s capabilities are pretty awesome. You can ask for recipes, tell it to write you an essay or book report, or even to write software. However, it’s not actually doing any of these things. Instead, the bot cooks up something based on all the similar stuff it found on the internet.

The non-secret secret here is that ChatGPT is trained on copyrighted data, just like the Dall-E image AI from the same company. It might not regurgitate whole chunks of copyrighted text, but without the input of all the people who created those works, it could not exist. Google is hamstrung here, because it cannot just start scraping the Internet to train its models, or there would be an outcry. However, as we shall see in a moment, Google has its own advantages.

Plus, ChatGPT’s synthesis of existing knowledge is hit or miss. While it always seems convincing, it can often create some rather weird results. ChatGPT’s recipe inventions, for example, might not be to everyone’s—or anyone’s—taste. 

A closeup view of the colorful Google logo.

Kai Wenzel / Unsplash

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful, though. Instead of asking Google for a new fitness plan, for example, and combing the results for an answer, you just tell ChatGPT to write you a fitness program. This is exactly what technology reporter and marathon runner Rhiannon Williams did, and while the plan that ChatGPT provided her was quite obviously flawed, it shows the potential. 

But Google still has some advantages, like the depth and breadth of data it has to draw from. 

“[Google] has more data than ChatGPT has been trained on. It has a long history of information vs chatGPT which doesn’t have answers for stuff before 2021,” data scientist and machine-learning expert Dushyant Sengar told Lifewire via email. “It generates information along with credible sources. This is critical, and a huge win over chatGPT, which lacks source information, and people still need to find the source before using the information.”

Right now, ChatGPT is a sometimes-useful novelty. But if it can fix its accuracy problem, then it could go from generating convincing-but-utterly-incorrect history essays to completely replacing Google’s role as a knowledge provider, leaving it behind like Google itself left Ask Jeeves and Alta Vista behind. 

Which is why Google is now scrambling to come up with its own AI answer. It’s amazing what a little competition can do.

Update 1/30/23: Added the second paragraph in section 3 to better clarify the issue of potential plagiarism found in ChatGPT output.

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