How legitimate is ChatGPT as a search engine?

If you haven’t yet heard of ChatGPT it’s essentially a chatbot developed by an artificial intelligence company OpenAI. Unlike other chatbots (think of the Flo chat which answers questions about your menstrual cycle or even any customer service chatbot on a banking website), ChatGPT makes use of generative AI which means it can produce its own content as opposed to just responding to existing content. 

Aside from generating potential chat-up lines, song lyrics and cover letters, ChatGPT can act as a rather effective search engine. So much so that Google recently issued a “code red” on the potentially competitive technology in late December, with CEO Sundar Pichai redirecting certain teams to boost its focus on AI products.

Nevertheless, some are arguing that the new bot isn’t as bright as its been made out to be. It was even publicly shamed on Channel 4 news when it spewed some incorrect information regarding Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the iconic news presenter who was interviewing the bot on live television. 

There are other issues that prevent ChatGPT from one-upping Google – for now. For example, if you ask it for today’s weather forecast it will respond; “I’m sorry, but I am unable to provide current weather information as my training data only goes up until 2021.”

Furthermore, its responses in comparison to Google’s can be overly long. For example, if you ask for the definition of osmosis, it will reply with the following; 

“Osmosis is the movement of a solvent (such as water) through a semipermeable membrane (a membrane that allows some substances to pass through but not others) from an area of low solute concentration (dilute solution) to an area of high solute concentration (concentrated solution) until the concentration of solute is equal on both sides of the membrane.

In other words, osmosis is the process by which water moves through a membrane in order to balance the concentration of solutes on either side of the membrane. This process is important in many biological systems, as it allows cells to maintain a balance of water and solutes inside and outside the cell.

For example, in plant cells, osmosis helps to regulate the amount of water inside the cell, which is important for maintaining the shape and turgor (the state of being swollen or turgid) of the cell. In animal cells, osmosis helps to maintain the proper balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium ions) in the body, which is essential for proper functioning.”

The dyslexic fifteen-year-old GCSE student in me is dying right now. Google has my back, in comparison, concisely responding; “In biology, osmosis is the movement of water molecules from a solution with a high concentration of water molecules to a solution with a lower concentration of water molecules, through a cell’s partially permeable membrane.” Much better. 

On the other hand, when asking ChatGPT for forms of advice, its responses seem far more tailored. If you ask it for healthy breakfast options, it provides a concise list with healthy bonus tips;

“”There are many options for a healthy breakfast. Some ideas include:

  1. Overnight oats: Combine rolled oats, yoghurt, milk, and any desired toppings (such as fruit, nuts, or seeds) in a jar or container and let sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you’ll have a creamy, tasty breakfast ready to go.
  2. Scrambled eggs: Scramble eggs in a pan with some diced vegetables, such as bell peppers and onions, for added nutrients. Serve with whole grain toast or a piece of fruit.
  3. Breakfast smoothie: Blend together your favourite frozen fruit, a scoop of protein powder, and some milk or yoghurt for a quick and easy breakfast on the go.
  4. Whole grain waffles or pancakes: Top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup for a tasty treat.
  5. Breakfast burrito: Fill a whole grain tortilla with scrambled eggs, black beans, avocado, and any other desired toppings for a protein-packed breakfast.

Remember to include a source of protein in your breakfast to help keep you full and satisfied throughout the morning.”

A similar response is offered when you ask for practical tips such as “best things to do in Paris” or “best bakeries in North London” 

ChatGPT also offers disclaimers and defines terms in your search, almost as an essay would. For example, if you asked it for a list of the “best Islamic artists” it will provide a list but written below is the following;

“It is important to note that the term “Islamic art” refers to art created by or for Muslims, and does not necessarily refer to art that depicts religious themes or motifs. The art of the Islamic world is diverse and reflects the wide range of cultures and societies within the Muslim world.” 

This is a rather diplomatic response and if you ask ChatGPT for its opinions on politics or particular figures it will respond “”As an AI, I do not have personal opinions or feelings. I am programmed to provide objective and factual information to the best of my ability based on my training and knowledge.”

Overall, most generated artists prove to be balanced, informative and fairly well researched. While answers feel more tailored and it is easier to flow from one topic to another, Google tends to offer more concise, short form responses. 

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