Can this AI-powered search engine replace Google? this is for me.
Throughout my adult life, whenever I've had a question about the world or needed to track something online, I've turned to Google for an answer.
But recently, I've been taking on Google with a new, AI-powered search engine. (No, not Bing, who is dead to me after trying to break up my marriage last year.)
This is called distraction. of the year Search engine, whose founders previously worked in AI research at OpenAI and Meta, has quickly become one of the most talked-about products in the tech world. tech insider rave about it on social media, and investors like Jeff Bezos – who was also an early investor in Google – have showered cash on it. company recently announced It had raised $74 million in a funding round led by Institutional Venture Partners, valuing the company at $520 million.
Many start-ups have tried to challenge Google over the years and failed. (A potential competitor, Neeva, closed last year After failing to gain traction.) But Google seems less invincible these days. Many users have complained that their Google search results are blocked from spammy, low-quality websites, etc. Some people have started searching Instead look for answers on places like Reddit and TikTok.
Inspired by the hype, I recently spent several weeks using Perplexity as my default search engine on both desktop and mobile. I tested both the free version and the paid product, Perplexity Pro, which costs $20 per month and gives users access to more powerful AI models and some features, such as the ability to upload your own files.
After hundreds of searches, I can report that even though Perplexity isn't perfect, it's pretty good. And while I'm not ready to completely break away from Google, I'm now more convinced that AI-powered search engines like Perplexity could loosen Google's grip on the search market, or at least catch up to it. Can force.
I also fear that AI search engines could destroy my job, and that products like them could result in the collapse of the entire digital media industry. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
where it shines
At first glance, Perplexity's desktop interface looks a lot like Google's – a text box centered on a sparse landing page.
But as soon as you start typing, the difference becomes apparent. When you ask a question, Perplexity doesn't give you a list of links back. Instead, it scours the web for you and uses AI to write a summary of what it finds. These replies are annotated with links to the sources used by the AI, which also appear in a panel above the response.
I tested Perplexity on hundreds of questions, including questions about current events (“How did Nikki Haley perform in the New Hampshire primary?”), shopping recommendations (“What's the best dog food for a senior dog with joint pain?” Is it?”) and household questions. Task (“How long does beef stew stay good in the fridge?”).
Each time, I would get an AI-generated response, usually a paragraph or two, with quotes from websites like NPR, The New York Times, and Reddit, along with a list of suggested follow-up questions I could ask, such as “Can you freeze beef stew to make it last longer?”
An impressive perplexity feature is “Copilot”, which helps the user narrow down a question by asking clarifying questions. For example, when I asked for suggestions on where to throw a birthday party for a 2-year-old, Copilot asked if I wanted suggestions for outdoor venues, indoor venues, or both. When I chose “Indoor”, it asked me to choose a rough budget for the party. Then it gave me a list of possible locations.
Perplexity also allows users to search within a specific set of sources, such as academic papers, YouTube videos, or Reddit posts. This came in handy when I was wondering how to change the settings on my home's water heater. (Exciting stuff, I know.) A Google search yielded a bunch of less-than-useful links to DIY tutorials, some of which were thinly veiled advertisements for plumbing companies. I tried the same query on Perplexity and limited my search to YouTube videos. Perplexity found the video I needed for the exact model of water heater, extracted the relevant information from the video and turned it into step-by-step instructions.
Under the hood, Perplexity runs on OpenAI's GPT-3.5 model as well as its own AI model – a variant of Meta's open-source Llama 2 model. Users who upgrade to the Pro version can choose between a few different models, including GPT-4 and Anthropic Cloud. (I used GPT-4 for most of my searches, but I didn't notice any significant difference in the quality of answers when I chose other models.)
It's refreshing to admit confusion when it's accepted. Not there. know something. Sometimes, it provided a partial answer to my question, such as “No further details are provided in the search results.” Most AI chat products I've used lack this kind of politeness – their responses seem confident even when they're talking nonsense.
Where Google still rules
During my tests, I found Perplexity most useful for complex or open-ended searches, such as summarizing recent news articles about a specific company or giving me suggestions for date-night restaurants. I found it useful even when what I was looking for – for example, instructions on renewing a passport – was hidden on a crowded, difficult-to-navigate website.
But I went back to Google for certain types of searches — usually, when I was looking for specific people or trying to visit websites I already knew existed. For example: When I typed “Wayback Machine” into my browser's search bar, I was redirected to Perplexity, which featured a paragraph-long essay about the history of the Internet Archive, the organization that maintains the Wayback Machine. Came. To get to the Wayback Machine website I had to look for a short citation link, which is what I wanted in the first place.
A similar thing happened when I asked Perplexity for driving directions to a work meeting. Because of the integration with Google Maps, Google would give me turn-by-turn directions from my home. But Perplexity doesn't know where I live, so the best it could offer me was a link to MapQuest.
Location data is one of the many advantages Google has over Perplexity. Size is different – Perplexity, which has just 41 employees and is based in a shared work space in San Francisco, has 10 million monthly active users, an impressive number for a young start-up but compared to Google's billions. It is very little.
Tangled also lacks an attractive business model. Currently, there are no ads on the site and less than 100,000 people are paying for the premium version, said Arvind Srinivas, the company's chief executive. (Mr. Srinivas didn't rule out switching to an ad-based model in the future.) And, of course, Perplexity doesn't offer versions of Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Docs or any of the dozens of other products. Google's ecosystem is so indispensable.
Mr. Srinivas told me in an interview that although he believed Google to be a strong competitor, he believed a small, focused start-up could stun it.
“What convinces me is that, if they want to do it better than us, they're going to have to basically dismantle their own business model,” he said.
What about hallucinations?
One problem with AI-based search engines is that they hallucinate, or make up answers, and sometimes deviate from their source material. This problem has plagued many AI-search hybrids, including Google Bard's initial releasesAnd this remains one of the biggest obstacles to mass adoption.
In my testing, I found that Perplexity's answers were mostly accurate – or, to be more accurate, they were as accurate as the source they came from.
I found some errors. When I asked Perplexity when Novak Djokovic's next tennis match would be, he gave me details of a match he had already finished. Another time, when I uploaded a PDF file of a new AI research paper and asked Perplexity to summarize it, I got a summary of a completely different paper that was published three years ago.
Mr Srinivas acknowledged that AI-powered search engines still make mistakes. He said that because Perplexity was a small, relatively obscure product, users did not expect it to be as authoritative as Google – and that Google would struggle to build generative AI into its search engine because it needed to maintain its reputation for accuracy. Is.
“Let's say you use our product and we do well on eight out of 10 questions. You will be impressed,” Mr Srinivas said. “Now let's say you use Google's product and it only gets a seven out of 10. You'll say, 'How can Google get three questions wrong,
“That disparity is our opportunity,” he said.
Win for users, loss for publishers
Even though I enjoyed using Perplexity, and I will continue to use it in conjunction with Google, I will admit that looking at news stories, product reviews, and its ancient, concise summaries made me feel a strange pain in my stomach. . How to article.
Much of today's digital media economy still depends on a constant flow of people clicking on Google's links and placing advertisements on publishers' websites.
But with Perplexity, there's usually no need to visit a website – the AI does the browsing for you and gives you all the information you need right there on the answer page.
The possibility that AI-powered search engines could replace Google traffic – or lead Google to put similar features into its search engine, as it has started doing with its “Find productive experiences” Experiment – This is partly why many digital publishers are scared right now. It's also a reason some people are fighting back, including The Times, which sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement last year.
After using Perplexity, and hearing about it Similar products are being developed By other start-ups, I'm convinced that those concerned are right. If an AI search engine can give a reliable summary of what's happening in Gaza, or tell users which toaster to buy, why would anyone ever visit a publisher's website again? Why would journalists, bloggers, and product reviewers continue to put their work online if an AI search engine would swallow it and regurgitate it?
I conveyed these concerns to Mr. Srinivas, who responded diplomatically. He acknowledged that Perplexity would likely drive less traffic to websites than traditional search engines. But he said the traffic that remains will be higher quality and easier for publishers to monetize, because it will result from better, more targeted queries.
I'm skeptical of that logic, and I'm still nervous about what the future holds for writers, publishers, and people who consume online media.
So for now, I have to weigh the convenience of using Perplexity against the worry that, by using it, I'm contributing to my own destruction.