Publishers might feel they need to shelter from the coming AI search storm as Microsoft takes on Google on its own turf.
"How did you win the war with the AI robot army dad?"
"Well that's very simple son. The AI conducted warfare according to the data available to it. The vast majority of that data, drawn from human history, indicated combat was most effective with short ranged melee weapons."
"Oh, so it had no qualitative understanding?"
"We got a gang of Luddites with chain guns to put the zap on the lot of 'em. Shame really."
So it is we sit on the cusp of another technological revolution, and it's a proper Heavyweight Clash. ChatGPT versus Bard. Has Microsoft, benefiting from the creative space a low stakes venture into a non-core market gives them, utterly trounced Google, hidebound by their zealous protection of search as the key to all they hold precious?
Will natural language search prove to be a faster route to the truth, and more importantly the route to at least one viable rival to Google in search? Whatever happens, the landscape for publishers will change once again.
We're going to set all the developments of the past few weeks, initially pushed into the public sphere by the open launch of ChapGPT, into one box called The Ability To Produce Written Content About A Subject. Then we're going to test it against an immutable rule of factual journalism: Everything you read is true until it's about something you really know.
"Everything you read is true until it's about something you know" doesn't negate truth. It just recognises that there are people out there who will debate the exact origin of the fully variable engine nozzle on a Saab Viggen while brandishing opposing original documentation, or heatedly discuss exactly why the German Landseer is a different dog than the Newfoundland to the point of naming specific animals. It doesn't mean one holds the truth, it just means that sometimes life is inconclusive.
Some people just frequently write awful inaccuracies of course. ChatGPT also writes awful inaccuracies. So we're on a par there. ChatGPT can replicate not truly create. Any truth it contains is derivative. Derived from what is also a good question.
For the moment, it seems likely such *cough* AI (ed: We do know it's Machine Learning) will hoover up simple searches: What's On, What Time etc. Or even more complex listings tasks. That's bad news for publishers who have legitimately used such traffic streams, but again, most are pushed there by advertising market distortion that still does not pay the publishers that create content a fair price for that content?
Some market madness about the prospects for AI publishing is already evident. And it could go a lot further. We've already seen Buzzfeed's share price surge on the back of its intention to produce "AI Quizzes".
But then remember when we all trembled in artisan fear at the relentless authorial tide of "Content Farms"?
There is of course another consideration for such systems and it's around processing power. At present, as we know, such search requires more power than conventionally served search pages, with the consequent increase in real cost. Even given the considerable and low-key amazing advances in cloud computing over the past decade, power is money. There is no model to pay for this at the moment.
It's clear that the current public-facing AI is not far off being a technology demonstrator, and that this field will yield yet more, impressive results. That is truly exciting.
Yet of systems such as ChatGPT, we leave you with the words of data scientist Colin Fraser , “they are incurable, constant, shameless bullshitters. Every single one of them. It’s a feature, not a bug".