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A few months ago, I wrote an article predicting that Silicon Valley titans like Google, Meta, and Adobe would likely collapse within 10 to 20 years. Commenters on social media tended to agree with my Meta/Facebook assessment, but expressed far more skepticism about the possible collapse of Google or Adobe.
It is the former that seems to be “too big to fail” because the latter is already feeling the sting of alternative solutions in the field of graphic design (like Canva or the much, much cheaper Affinity Suite, which already takes over the core Adobe applications. : Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) .
After all, Google accounts for at least 85 percent of the global search market (although some estimates place it as high as 92 percent). Thanks to Android’s popularity, especially in less developed countries, it also owns 70 percent of the smartphone operating system market.
How could such a giant—a monopoly in many ways—be challenged?
Lessons can be found in history, including Google’s own rise to power.
We like to tell ourselves that we can predict the future; that there are some observable patterns and laws that we can follow to determine who or what will be popular in the coming years, or determine what our lives will look like decades from now.
In fact, even in this day and age of internet access and more information than we can imagine, we’re really bad at it.
Contrary to popular belief, innovation does not happen in a linear fashion – it often happens in unpredictable leaps, almost overnight, catching the incumbent leader by surprise.
Google itself was not the first search engine. It was created when Yahoo was one of the leaders of the Internet revolution, and its value peaked at more than $100 billion when Sergey Brin and Larry Page were still students tinkering with technology in the garage.
However, Google’s technology was more accurate and versatile at the time, and much more adaptable for global use. Yahoo was a US-centric news portal with only a search function attached, and similar clones (as often happens in tech) popped up around the world, in each respective national market.
Google changed that by focusing on the search function rather than the content, creating a basic algorithm that would crawl the web and rank sites for relevance to specific search queries, no matter where you were.
It then monetized its service by placing ads next to search results, allowing businesses to pay their way into them. Even after almost 25 years, this simple model is still the cornerstone of the company’s existence.
Despite the enormity of the market, which is counted in the tens of billions of dollars, no other company has managed to disrupt Google’s dominance.
But that may soon change.
ChatGPT is another AI-based solution released by the OpenAI research lab funded by Elon Musk, Peter Thiel or Microsoft. It was behind the eyebrow-raising DALL·E 2 AI image generator, which made waves in early 2022 with its ability to generate complex, often highly realistic images from simple user queries.
ChatGPT, meanwhile, provides accurate, natural-sounding answers to questions—in fact, almost any question you can imagine (and it’s sure to keep getting better). So compelling is the system that it can actually generate entire articles based on simple user input and extract relevant information from the many sources it’s been fed.
Here’s what he told me in seconds about the sources of Singapore’s wealth:
From this rather general answer, you can follow up with questions to specific points and get a more accurate picture.
Assuming that’s accurate (which isn’t always the case at this point), the advantage of such a chat assistant over Google search is clear, and that’s why Alphabet executives are concerned about the tool’s sophistication.
To extract and organize specific information about a certain topic, you would usually have to go through several websites listed in Google results yourself and then read and find the specific information you need.
Here you will only get a complete answer focused on the information you requested.
But chat can also generate creative suggestions like a good friend would, without having to browse dozens of websites yourself. As in this example:
At its inception, Google provided more accurate search results and listed the pages/websites most relevant to your query. ChatGPT goes further by giving you a direct answer with the information you’re looking for, and does so in an often eerily human way.
But he has one more trick up his sleeve – he can also create creative content himself.
How about a poem about Singapore?
Yes, it may need some polishing, but it’s not bad for a service that’s still effectively in beta.
In other words, ChatGPT is not only a threat to Google, but also to many content creators, writers, news sites and so on.
It is true that the system must receive some information before it can produce anything. After all, he only knows as much as he is taught.
However, this can be reduced to multiple streams of data, facts and figures, with AI generating news broadcasts (either in text or voice form, or perhaps one day even full videos), or perhaps even opinions from different points of view (learning differences in arguments political left or right), within minutes or seconds – something that would take a disproportionate amount of people’s time.
And most likely at a fraction of the price too.
For Google, which gets its revenue from both search and content (publishers place banners around articles), this is really a double whammy.
Pretty quickly we can ditch the old search results pages that list an endless stream of website links (often skewed by dubious SEO practices that keep promoting spammy or potentially harmful links to high positions) and simply use one solution that provides the exact answer we’re looking for in the vast majority of our information retrieval activities.
Once the system improves and can handle information in different languages, the collapse of Google as the leading search engine could be very fast.
And the fact that ChatGPT took only five days to reach a million users only confirms this observation:
Just Bing it
And it’s not like OpenAI wants to keep chat free, because the cost of running it is, as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman described it, “eye-popping.”
There is already a plan to monetize the solution, with revenue expected to reach $1 billion in 2024 — quite a jump from zero today.
Perhaps the chat itself will contain some advertising, or simply become a paid solution (perhaps with tiers depending on users’ needs). But the most interesting twist in this story is the involvement of Google’s long-time failed rival: Microsoft.
In 2019, the Redmond giant poured $1 billion into OpenAI, which may turn out to be one of the best tech investments ever.
After years of hopelessly chasing Google with its own Bing search engine, Microsoft has now announced that it will integrate some of ChatGPT’s features into it, starting this March, with further integrations expected over time.
This may be just the technological leap he needed to end Google’s dominance once and for all.
And it’s just one of many paths the company can take to take advantage of the new technology, given its own near-monopoly position in personal computer operating systems.
With OpenAI planning to monetize the technology, Bing — aka Windows — may soon be the main way millions of people access them for free (and conveniently, too).
It seems that Google has really been caught on the back foot, and it’s not clear that even its billions of dollars will allow it to develop a competitive solution in time. After all, remember what happened to Nokia?
It had the dominance of the mobile phone market, it had the money, it even launched smartphones – and yet within a few years it was beaten and had to leave the industry entirely.
Will it happen to Google too? For the first time ever, we can really say that it could be.
Featured image credit: Vikas Kulhari via Medium
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