More AI Chatbot Searches Are Coming—Here's Why That Could Be a Bad Thing

Even bots are prone to errors

  • Google intends for its new Bard chatbot to make online searches easier. 
  • AI chatbots don’t always give accurate search results. 
  • Conversational searches may signal a shift in the way users interact with computers.
Someone holding a smartphone with the Google search page open on the screen.

Arkan Perdana / Unsplash

The artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot wars are heating up, and new options could confuse users. 

Google recently announced the launch of Bard, a conversational AI chatbot that will compete against OpenAI's increasingly popular ChatGPT service. The Google chat tool is meant for online searches but gave the wrong answer to a query featured in a video demonstration. Experts say the increasing number of chatbots offers benefits and problems. 

"It's important to remember that ChatGPT was trained to be creative and to generate human-like text," Kyle McIntyre, the head of AI engineering at Quiq, a conversational AI company, told Lifewire in an email interview. "It wasn't necessarily trained to be right, as preeminent machine learning researcher Andrew Ng amusingly pointed out."

Chatbots Give Search New Life

Google's new Bard chatbot technology gives users a fresh way to search the web. The bot allows more conversational queries than are currently possible with Google search. 

Being able to truly communicate with your PC or phone to get things done, rather than clicking and swiping like we do today, is no longer a far-fetched concept.

"It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses," Google CEO  Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post on the company website. "Bard can be an outlet for creativity, and a launchpad for curiosity, helping you to explain new discoveries from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to a 9-year-old, or learn more about the best strikers in football right now, and then get drills to build your skills."

However, Bard stumbled when talking about the space telescope that Pichai mentioned in the announcement. The bot was asked about discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope in an advertisement. Bard claimed the telescope was the first to take pictures of a planet outside the earth's solar system. The European Very Large Telescope actually took the photos in question in 2004. 

Despite the search issue, some observers say that conversational AI will be a big help to users once early problems are fixed. Pieter Buteneers, Director of Engineering in ML and AI at Sinch, told Lifewire in an email that compared to traditional search engines, which force users to pare their queries down to precise keywords, generative AI-based search engines allow for actual conversations with the tool. Even if the engine misunderstands a request, it can be given follow-ups such as "can you rephrase that?" or "this isn't what I'm looking for" to clarify even further.

"With these intelligent search engines, rather than digging through pages upon pages of search results, users will be presented with all the information they want—whether it's an email, a metric from a company database, a funny meme they once saw, or even identifying a part of a provided image—in seconds," he added. 

A futuristic image of a the graphical interface a chatbot might use.

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Not all AI chatbots are created equal, noted Max Thake, the co-founder of the blockchain network company peaq, in an email interview. He said that while ChatGPT is being updated with new information, its training dataset is limited to pre-2021 data. ChatGPT also cannot directly access the web, while Google's Bard is intended for search. 

"Access to live information makes for a significant distinction in terms of how up-to-date the information provided by the bot is," Thake added. "For many people, the Internet largely comes down to the Google search bar and the first few pages with results; with Bard, this window into the web could grow even narrower for some users."

Chatbots Could Change Computing

New AI chatbots for web searches could indicate that traditional keyword-based search engines will quickly become obsolete, Buteneers said. When Google introduced its intuitive web search engine designed for the average user, it upturned how people surfed the web. There was no longer a need to keep tabs on specific web addresses when anyone could search a few keywords and arrive at the same destination. 

"Search engines are undergoing a similar transformation with conversational AI," Buteneers added. "There will soon be no need to guess at keywords, use Boolean operators, or sift through pages of content once users can simply ask their search engine a naturally-worded question."  

And the new chatbot paradigm could even upend how users interact with their computers. "ChatGPT is just the beginning," Buteneers said. "Being able to truly communicate with your PC or phone to get things done, rather than clicking and swiping like we do today, is no longer a far-fetched concept."

Update 02/09/2023: Corrected a source's title in paragraph 7.

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