The Gist

  • A supplement for content creators. Generative AI, a technology that creates content, is promising to supplement human content creators by taking on lower-end assignments.

  • AI-powered chatbots rising. Microsoft and Google have announced AI-powered chatbots, Bing and Bard respectively, to improve search results and provide better chat experiences.

  • Real writers will still thrive. Human-created content is still king, and AI is not going to take the jobs of real writers who provide value and in-depth insights.

  • Impact on lower-end content work. Generative AI can impact lower-end content work, and AI-assisted content creation is a good thing for content creators.

  • Job replacement. AI will replace some jobs, just like the assembly line replaced many workers’ jobs in the past.

For decades technology leaders have been obsessed with digital assistants. This started way back in the 1990s with the ridiculous Clippy from Microsoft and has had various starts and stops over the years.

This tech desire to eliminate human customer service support continues to this day unabated with a new round of digital assistants now called chatbots and powered by AI to help users out with their queries. Unfortunately, chatbots, like the digital assistants of decades earlier, haven’t lived up to the hype heaped upon them by self-promoting techies.

In 2016, tech giants were pushing digital assistants, yet again, as the next step in the evolution of human and computer interaction. Over the past few years there has been little progress in their performance. The majority of chatbots people interact with are still pretty basic, only capable of answering rudimentary questions on help desk pages.

But things are changing with more advanced generative AI capabilities, like ChatGPT, being made public right now. Generative AI promises if not to replace highly-skilled content creators, to at least supplement them by taking on more lower-end assignments. 

So, has this new technology advanced to the point where it can really be used to improve web search results and Q&A, or are we still in the hype cycle of generative AI? In short, how will generative AI change search?

What Is Generative AI?

Generative AI is one piece of the overall AI capabilities companies are deploying for a variety of applications. As indicated in the name, generative AI is all about creating content. While today most chatbots have conversational AI driving its responses, generative AI promises to make those interactions more humanlike and does overlap with some other AI technologies like machine learning, deep learning, predictive AI and fuzzy logic.

Generative AI isn’t just about text although that is the focus now. It can create visual images and video, as well as create audio.

Related Article: Generative AI: Opportunities and Challenges for Marketing

Enter ChatGPT Into the Fray

You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about ChatGPT in the media lately. Launched on Nov. 30, 2022, ChatGPT, created by OpenAI, is a natural language processing tool powered by generative AI that allows users to interact in a more conversational fashion beyond the capabilities of the current chatbot.

ChatGPT claims it is able to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests. Right now, it is being provided as a freemium model and also has a paid version. Sam Altman, OpenAI's chief, said on Twitter that ChatGPT had more than 1 million users in its first five days after launching. According to Swiss bank UBS, ChatGPT is the fastest growing app of all time. In January, UBS analysis estimated that ChatGPT had 100 million active users.

Related Article: ChatGPT: What You Need to Know

Limitations and Criticisms of Generative AI Technology

ChatGPT and other generative AI products, at this stage, are not quite prime-time ready. Questions that are posed to it have to be worded a specific way, and may deliver poor-quality responses if not worded just right. Instead of the software asking for clarification from you for follow-up, the model guesses what you want, which can lead to completely unrelated material being created.

Critics argue that these tools are just very good at putting words into an order that makes sense from a statistical point of view, but they cannot understand the meaning or know whether the statements it makes are correct. In general, AI and ML models rely on lots of training and fine-tuning to reach a level of ideal performance.

In fact, ChatGPT was trained on a ton of text data. By learning to recognize patterns, it enables the software to produce its own text mimicking others’ writing styles, said Gartner Vice President Bern Elliot. Elliot said that for now ChatGPT is more of a way for OpenAI to gain publicity and to show what’s possible for large language models, as opposed to a useful piece of software for businesses to incorporate.

“ChatGPT, as currently conceived, is a parlor trick,” Elliot said. “It’s something that isn’t actually itself going to solve what people need, unless what they need is sort of a distraction.”

Related Article: Will Generative AI Replace Customer Data Analysts?

Major Tech Companies Jumping on the Generative AI Bandwagon

Web search has potential to benefit from generative AI technology. On Feb. 7 Microsoft announced the up-and-coming launch of the AI-powered Bing Search engine and Edge browser, hoping this technology will deliver better search results, provide more complete answers, a better chat experience and the ability to generate content. This makes sense given the fact Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI.

Learning Opportunities

“AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest category of all — search,” said Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, Microsoft. “Today, we’re launching Bing and Edge powered by AI copilot and chat, to help people get more from search and the web.”

Just one day before the Microsoft announcement, in a blog post Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Bard, an AI-powered chatbot, similar to ChatGPT. Bard is also powered by a language model, in this case it’s the Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). Bard, like ChatGPT, is also designed to be conversational. Google says Bard will be incorporated into its search application in the near future.

“We’ve been working on an experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA, that we’re calling Bard. And today, we’re taking another step forward by opening it up to trusted testers ahead of making it more widely available to the public in the coming weeks,” Pichai said. “Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses.”

And now Meta too has thrown itself into the AI fray with the announcement of LLaMa and a new, top-level and cross-departmental team to build AI into its products and services.

But at this point neither has been launched officially, so only time will tell whether the hype from these CEOs match the reality of generative AI’s capabilities. 

Some CEOs are a bit more grounded on how generative AI will impact search. “I do think search engines are going to evolve and develop better ways of finding information,” said Seth Besmertnik, CEO and co-founder of Conductor. “There will be changes to how search is done, like being able to answer follow-up questions and prompts, but there is still going to be citation of content, and there is still going to be a way to get more information about content.”

The Role of Human-Created Content in a World of Generative AI

Regardless of the programming of generative AI algorithms, AI does not come up with source content, but delivers responses based on existing material. So in response to the naysayers, human original content creators aren’t going anywhere and generative AI is not going to take the jobs of real writers who provide value and in-depth insights. That being said, AI is going to impact lower-end content work, for people who are not necessarily highly skilled writers and just need some basic copy to fill a need. And, truth be told, ChatGPT has taken some jobs already, according to one survey.

“The AI doesn’t come up with the wisdom, the wisdom is coming from the content. So, if people stop creating content, then the AI doesn’t have anything to feed itself with,” said Besmertnik. “If you want new information or new wisdom, the AI is not going to come up with it, it’s only going to process and help you find it.”

According to Besmertnik, if looked at the right way, AI-assisted content creation is a good thing for content creators and will provide them the support they need to help their companies succeed. “Generative AI is going to evolve and will continue to create opportunities for content creators.”

Generative AI and the Evolving Landscape of Content Creation and SEO

Right now, generative AI, from a search point-of-view, is in a time-will-tell phase of development. No one is questioning the value of AI or enhancing search, but how generative AI will impact search specifically and whether it will make it easier to find and sort information is yet to be seen. Neither Microsoft or Google has actually fully implemented the ChatGPT-like technology into their search engines; they just announced intent. 

The reality of generative AI is it will impact some content creator jobs, most likely the lower-end ones that do not rely on deep subject matter knowledge and industry specialization. Think of it as a modern digital assembly line — sure generative AI is not going to fully eliminate the need for content creators, but it can be used for the more laborious writing tasks that less-skilled writers would handle, helping to free up the better creators for more critical needs.

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