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The Future of Search: The Role of AI in Search Engines

 

From image and voice search to Chat GPT, artificial intelligence (AI) has already revolutionised our lives, changing the way we access and search for information. But with the advent of Bing Deep Search, Google Gemini and Circle to Search, many are wondering how AI will change the future of search.

In today’s digital landscape, large language models (LLMs) have become a key component of any SEO strategy. But how many people are utilising AI-powered search? And how is AI shaping a new era of search? Let’s find out.

The Rise of AI in Search

As AI evolves, more of us are expressing an interest in this technology and nowhere is this more evident than online search. According to research conducted in 2023, AI is becoming an increasingly common part of our daily lives. 

This survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States found that 49% of respondents were interested in AI-powered search:

Survey of more than 2000 people in the United States on how they would like AI to be used in the future. Courtesy of Statista.

But, while many of us think of AI-powered search as a recent development, Google has been utilising machine learning since 2001. This was the year that Google introduced their spelling search, which improved search results by correcting spelling errors. One small step for Google, one giant leap for the future of AI search.

Five years later, Google Translate was launched. Then, in 2011, they heralded a new era with Google Brain, a project that introduced deep learning. Google Brain was a huge catalyst for the development of AI, with applications that contributed to natural language processing and image recognition.

A New Way to Search

Today, AI is synonymous with search. It’s also becoming increasingly commonplace in our everyday lives, both at home and at work. As highlighted by a recent report, one in six UK businesses embraced at least one form of AI technology in 2023. This includes natural language processing (8%) and machine learning (7%).

This rise in the uptake of AI is no coincidence. From the close of 2022 to the beginning of 2024, the world of search was bombarded by 18 months of new AI offerings. This included advanced chatbots and enhanced search, from ChatGPT to Circle to Search.

Here are some of the biggest developments.

ChatGPT

If there’s one form of AI that’s taken the world by storm, it’s the rise of the chatbot and in particular, ChatGPT. Released in November 2022, OpenAI’s advanced chatbot caused quite the stir with 40% of workers concerned that it could steal their jobs. 

Five months later, GPT-4 was released. According to OpenAI, this iteration outperformed the previous version, GPT-3.5. The two models were tested using a simulated bar exam with 3.5 scoring in the bottom 10% and 4 in the top 10%.

However, there was one big limitation: GPT-4 had limited knowledge of any events that happened after 2021. This was rectified with GPT-4 Turbo, which includes information through to April 2023.

For ChatGPT users, this natural language processing (NLP) tool was revolutionary. Capable of having human-like conversations, generating content and answering queries, it’s been used for debugging code, writing essays and brainstorming.

Google Gemini (Formerly Bard)

Bard, Google’s AI Chatbot, was introduced in March 2023. The technology quickly advanced and just six months later, Google announced a new version of Bard that was capable of integrating with Google apps.

In February 2024, less than one year after its launch, Google rebanded Bard as Gemini. This coincided with its rollout of a new standalone Gemini app for Android and iOS, which Google called its ‘first step in building a true AI assistant’.

The premium version of Gemini – Gemini Advance – is powered by Ultra 1.0, Google’s state-of-the-art AI. This advanced model claims to outperform GPT-4 and ‘expert-level’ humans. Working across apps, it offers enhanced reasoning and it’s capable of handling the most complex tasks, from advanced coding to helping you fix your flat tyre. 

At launch, Google Gemini was available in English in 150 countries and territories. Google has stated that further languages will be added and it’s also set to be integrated across the Google Workspace.

Bing Copilot (Bing Chat)

Dubbed by Microsoft as the ‘everyday AI companion’, Copilot is the latest version of their chatbot. Launched as Bing Chat in February 2023, this service was rebranded as Copilot in November 2023. 

Leveraging the technology of GPT-4, Copilot has been integrated across a variety of Microsoft services including Bing, Edge and Microsoft 365. Like ChatGPT, Copilot aims to provide users with improved search but it also offers various iterations, each with their own purpose.

For example, Copilot in Windows is an AI assistant that’s capable of providing answers, creating to-do lists or writing a cover letter. Meanwhile, Copilot for Sales and Copilot for Services have been designed for business applications. These Copilots can automatically provide answers for customer service employees and prepare briefing documents for meetings. 

Google SGE

Google’s latest adventure in generative AI is Search Generative Experience (SGE). Unveiled in November 2023, SGE takes a new approach to search results. Running on large language models (LLMs), SGE uses generative AI to display overviews, helping users explore a range of subjects with one query.

Rather than returning a list of relevant sites, Google SGE compiles a drop-down list of topics, all gathered from multiple sources. This means users no longer have to click individual links: the drop-down provides a brief summary, description or instructions all in one search.

Bing Deep Search

Announced in December 2023, Bing’s Deep Search is an AI feature designed to help users find comprehensive answers for complex searches. Powered by GPT-4, Bing introduced this feature for use alongside their search engine; it was created to complement and enhance their current model rather than replace it. 

Like Copilot, Bing Deep Search was built using GTP-4. Unlike Copilot, this generative AI feature has been programmed to display an ‘ideal set of results’ by considering all intents behind a query – even when the searches don’t include a specific keyword.

Bing’s example of their Deep Search was highlighted in their ‘how do points systems work in japan’ query. By considering intent, Deep Search produces results that also include other relevant terms such as ‘loyalty card programs japan’ and ‘redeeming loyalty cards in japan’.

Circle to Search

Google’s latest offering is their most interactive AI-search experience yet. Introduced in January 2024, Circle to Search is currently available on select Samsung and Google phones. This interactive approach provides an entirely new way for users to search.

With Circle to Search, you can find anything by simply circling, highlighting or tapping on a specific area of an image. The most impressive part? You can do this without having to switch to a separate app. This means users can shop a reel, click an image to find relevant recipes or circle to ask a question mid-video.

This is an exciting step in the future of search but it may take some time before it’s commonplace. At the moment, Circle to Search is available on limited devices and we couldn’t find an explicit timeline for further rollout. 

Traditional Search Versus the Chatbot

As the limitations of Bing Deep Search and Circle to Search show, this technology is still in its infancy. However, AI-powered search is evolving with rapid speed and uptake shows that there’s a growing demand.

Take ChatGPT. In January 2023, just two months after it launched, ChatGPT had reached 100 million users. This two-month timeframe made it the fastest-growing application of all time. In contrast, it took TikTok nine months to reach this milestone.

Despite the popularity of chatbots, traditional search continues to dominate. As the largest search engine in the world, Google processes an average of 8.5 billion searches per day. 

The Future of AI in Search

The rise of large language models (LLMs) have played a huge role in advancing web search. From understanding context to deciphering intent, AI has forever changed the way we search, shop and create.

With AI-powered algorithms becoming more advanced, it’s clear that large language models are going to play an ever-increasing role in search. But you don’t have to take our word for it.

In celebration of Google’s 25th birthday, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, wrote a blog post highlighting the importance of AI:

 “AI will be the biggest technological shift we see in our lifetimes. It’s bigger than the shift from desktop computing to mobile, and it may be bigger than the internet itself… Making AI more helpful for everyone, and deploying it responsibly, is the most important way we’ll deliver on our mission for the next 10 years and beyond.”

What the Rise of AI-Search Means For You

It’s easy to see that AI will continue to shape, drive and impact the future of search. But what does this mean for you?

As we move into this new era, understanding user intent and utilising AI will be more important than ever before. In short, you need an approach that not only considers the human experience but also leverages the capabilities of AI. This is where we can help.

If you’re trying to prepare for this new age of search, then get in touch with our experts at Another Concept.

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  • Marcus Hearn

    Marcus has spent his career growing the organic search visibility of both large organisations and SMEs. He specialises in technical SEO but he’s obsessed with curating strategies that leverage expertise and unlock potential.