Why you shouldn’t trust Google, Microsoft ChatGPT clones

Relying on artificial intelligence for online searches will accelerate the spread of misinformation.
Tyler Le/Insider

This week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, announced that his company’s Internet search engine, the vast majority of people’s interaction with the nearly complete corpus of human knowledge, is about to change. Type in a query and you’ll get more than pages and pages of links, as well as a few suggested answers. Now you will get the help of artificial intelligence.

“Soon,” says a Google blog post found by Pichai, “in Search, you’ll see AI-powered features that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into digestible formats so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more.” from the Internet.” The chatbot, named Bard, will deliver search results in complete sentences, just as a human would.

A day later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that his company’s rival search engine, Bing, would do the same, using the technology behind the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT. No search engine has ever really challenged Google’s position in world affairs. Microsoft sees AI as its chance to become king.

These new chatbots aren’t really smart. The technology behind the scenes is called a big language model, a set of software that can extract related words from a huge database and produce complex writing and visual art based on minimal prompts. But when it comes to knowledge acquisition, classification, and retrieval, this approach is an old bone of contention. It’s been in the works since at least the early 2000s, and maybe the 00s, at the Library of Alexandria. Basically, it’s a debate about the best way to know things. Are we dealing with the complexity of competing information? Or do we allow the government to reduce everything to a simple answer?

Bard has a simple answer to that age-old question. From now on, instead of showing you dozens of web pages with instructions on how to open a can of beans, machine learning droids will simply tell you how to open one. And if you think efficient search is what made the Internet the most important technology of the 20th and 21st centuries, that seemingly simple change should shock you. In this war of machines, the collateral damage can be nothing less than the permanent deletion of useful online information.

Hallucination of answers

Sometimes a simple answer is good. In what the trade calls “popular product searches,” we simply want to provide a factual answer to a specific question. What is the most common dog breed? How old is Madonna? Google is great at that.

The other type of search, “exploratory search,” is the hard one. This is where you don’t know what you don’t know. What is the right phone for me? What does it have to do with the Thirty Years’ War? Getting a satisfactory response is more repeatable. You throw a bunch of keywords into the search box, scroll through links, try new terms. It’s not perfect, and it’s skewed by advertisers’ profit motives and Google’s implicit judgments it makes behind the scenes about which pages are considered authoritative. But that’s what enabled us to find a needle in an online haystack.

Then came ChatGPT. As Google’s vice president of search told me a year ago when I wrote an article about why online search is bad, the company was already using artificial intelligence to make its search bar better understand what knowledge seekers we are. indeed he meant. But the seemingly overnight success of ChatGPT has led Google to try to bring its own bot that can provide an answer to the web.

Google has been dreaming about this particular electric sheep for a long time. the time conference 2011its president Eric Schmidt announced at the time search endgame should use AI to “literally calculate the correct answer” to queries rather than identify relevant pages. a Google Research 2021 sets out that aspiration in much more detail. “The original vision of question answering,” the authors write, “was to provide human-quality answers (ie, ask a question in natural language and receive a natural language answer). Question answer systems are provided for the question part only. Language model chatbots can provide more human-like answers than plain old search, they added, but there’s one problem. “Such models. dilettantesIt means that they have no “true understanding of the world” and they are “unable to justify their utterances by reference to supporting documents in the corpus in which they have been trained”.

To make an AI chatbot effective in search, the paper concludes, you need to build more authority and transparency. You have to somehow remove the bias from his training database and you have to teach him to include different points of view. Drag it hat trick inside the back flipand you’d transform the bot from a dilettante to a reasonable facsimile of a “domain expert”.

I spoke to a bunch of non-Google computer scientists last year about the state of Internet search in my story, and they all said the same thing about this idea. Don’t do it.

First of all, chat bots lie. Not on purpose! They just don’t understand what they are saying. They simply summarize things they have absorbed elsewhere. And sometimes those things are wrong. Researchers describe this as a trend “hallucination“—”produce highly pathological translations that are completely disconnected from the source material.” Chatbots, they warn, are infinitely vulnerable to racism, misogyny, conspiracy theories and lies with as much credibility as the truth.

This is why we, the searchers, are a crucial component of the search process. Over the years of exploring the digital world, we’ve all gotten better at spotting misinformation and disinformation. You know what I mean. When you scroll through Google’s search links looking for “esoteric shit,” as one search expert calls it, you see some pages that just look embarrassing, maybe in ways you can’t even fully articulate. You bypass them and open the legitimate-looking ones in new tabs.

Conversational responses generated automatically by chatbots will largely eliminate the human element of stupidity detection. Look at it this way. If you’re the kind of person who reads articles like this, you’ve learned to think that half-decent writing means a small amount of competence and experience. References to sources or quotes from experts indicate viable research and established facts. But search chatbots can fake all that. They will strip away the sources they rely on and the biases built into their databases behind an acceptable, almost-but-not-quite-human-sounding prose. No matter how wrong they are, they will voice correct. We won’t be able to tell if they’re hallucinating.

An early example of what we need. asked the demo From a Microsoft model trained on the biological literature, whether the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin is effective in treating COVID-19. It just answered yes. (Ivermectin is not effective against COVID-19.) And it was a search for famous objects. Wag was looking for a simple fact. The chatbot gave him a non-fact and presented it as the truth.

Of course, an early demo of Bing’s new search bot provides traditional links-‘n’-box results as well as an AI response. And it’s possible that Google and Microsoft will eventually figure out how to make their bots better at separating fact from fiction, so you don’t need to check their work. But if algorithms were good at detecting misinformation, then QAnon and vaccine deniers and maybe even Donald Trump wouldn’t be a thing, or at least not as much. When it comes to search, AI won’t be a lie detector. It will be a very reputable and friendly sounding gossip spreader.

Knowing where we’ve been

In his blog post, Pichai says that spoken answers to complex queries are easier to understand than a long list of links. They are definitely faster to read, no more boring scrolling and clicking. But while a chatbot will presumably use the same sources as a traditional search engine, its answers are more likely to be oversimplifications. The risk is that search results will henceforth be fairy tales programmed by idiots, full of sound and vocabulary, but answers that mean nothing. It is not a result. It’s spam.

But the really dangerous part is that chatbot conversational responses will remove a key element of human understanding. Citations—a bibliography, a record of your steps through the mental forest—is the connective tissue of research. They are not just about creation origin. They are a map of the replicable pathways of ideas, the links that turn information into knowledge. There is a reason called a train of mind insights come from attaching ideas together and spinning them around. Exploratory search is just that. find out what you need to know when you study. Hide those paths and there’s no way to know how the chatbot knows what it knows, which means there’s no way to evaluate its response.

“In most situations, there is no single answer. There is no easy answer. You have to let people discover their own answers,” Chirag Shah, an information scientist at the University of Washington, told me last year. “We now have the technical capabilities to build a large language model that can capture mostly human knowledge. Suppose we could do that. The question is, will you then use it to answer all the questions? Even the questions that don’t fit. Actually, it’s one thing to ask when Labor Day or the next total solar eclipse is, it’s another thing to ask whether Russia should have invaded Ukraine.

Complex topics and ideas do not lend themselves to one-size-fits-all answers in multiple ways and arguments. Whatever you want, click on the links, follow your nose. This is how people transform existing information and art into something new through innovation and synthesis. And that’s exactly what a chatbot search won’t do. At worst, you won’t be able to know anything beyond what the opaque algorithm thinks is most relevant, factually or otherwise.

The Microsoft bot is already showing its work. Google is supposedly working on it too. But frankly, it might not be a priority. “They want to keep things as simple and easy as possible for their end users,” observes Shah. “It allows them to weave more ads into the same display and optimize for the metrics they want in terms of ranking. But we already know that these things are classified purely by relevance. They are ranked based on engagement. People don’t just click and share things that are factually or authoritatively true.”

Google and Bing are, after all, businesses. Chatbots that answer our search terms can’t be honest information brokers, not just because they’re stupid, but because an honest information broker won’t sell as many ads or drive engagement. Google search pages are no longer completely reliable. they are over-indexed in YouTube video results, for example, because YouTube is a subsidiary of Google. If the best video tutorial on how to draw board game minifigures is on Vimeo. Hard.

So imagine the kind of hallucinations a great linguistic model like the Bard would have if, in addition to misreading its own sources, it was programmed for engagement. It will push the stuff that makes us want to squeeze meat bags. And as the last few years of social media have shown, that’s rarely the truth. If the search engine offers only easy answers, no one will be able to ask difficult questions.

Adam Rogers is a senior correspondent for Insider.

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