What to Know About OpenAI's Rumored ChatGPT Search Engine

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Stephanie Trovato
Stephanie Trovato

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ChatGPT has taken the marketing and tech worlds by storm, and it can be hard to keep up with all of the latest updates. Recently, there’s been discourse about whether or not ChatGPT has the same capabilities as a search engine. And if not … will it?

ChatGPT Search Engine

The tool is useful, broad, and ever-evolving, but users are growing curious to discover whether the tool can compete with Google’s search engine capabilities. Here’s what we know so far.

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How ChatGPT Has Influenced Search

Whether or not the tool qualifies as a search engine, there’s no doubt that ChatGPT has impacted how users interact with Internet data and sources.

A May 2024 update reported that there are 180.5 million ChatGPT users globally, with a substantial portion coming from the United States.

How many people use ChatGPT to search?

As of March 2024, there were a confirmed 3.9 million ChatGPT+ subscribers, which has only grown as ChatGPT continues to dominate the generative AI space.

Over 10% of users are using ChatGPT to help them at work, though it’s interesting to see which industries are taking advantage of the tool the most. Advertising seems to lead the efforts to integrate ChatGPT, with 39% of respondents using the tool professionally.

While we can look at the different industries taking advantage of ChatGPT, as well as the many other use cases of the tool, it’s complicated to identify who is using the tool as a search engine.

How have major search engines responded?

The two major search engines in the world are Bing and Google, dominating 92.68% of global search engine usage.

Bing’s response is unique, as Microsoft has actually partnered with OpenAI. The search engine takes advantage of some of OpenAI’s capabilities to provide a richer search experience.

Google, on the other hand, has responded with anxiety. They’re working diligently to create Bard, a generative AI tool that competes with ChatGPT on its major, non-search-engine-like use cases.

However, the rumor of a ChatGPT search engine caused considerable stress to individuals at the company.

Reportedly, the ChatGPT rumor triggered a Code Red at Google, as executives are deeply concerned about losing their top spot in the search engine market. Google is scrambling to roll out a significant list of new products to counteract the effects of ChatGPT’s innovation.

Trends Related to ChatGPT and Search

So, what are some ways ChatGPT can be used similarly to a search engine? There are a few trends that best describe its applications as a search engine.

Contextual Understanding for Search

A huge advantage of ChatGPT is that it can understand the context of your search.

While Google and Bing have filters you can turn on to provide some context or specifications indirectly, you can explain to ChatGPT the purpose behind your inquiry and get much more tailored results.

One of the common use cases of ChatGPT is travel planning, which would be a major change from how travel planning works on Google. When you Google Search, you’ll generally seek out flights, hotels, restaurants, and regulations all in different searches.

When you use ChatGPT, though, you can request all this information in the same inquiry and tell it you’re looking for a romantic vacation or a family trip with three children under 10. That’s a big reason why 34% of US travelers intend to use ChatGPT in the future.

That can inform the results and provide richer, more applicable information. I find this incredibly useful, especially when I’m using the tool to help support my tasks at work.

When I’m researching, I can inform the tool of the argument I’m trying to make and find data more applicable to my article’s perspective.

Then, I can ask for it to make the case for the other side in order to have a more comprehensive, rational point of view.

Conversational Search Inquiries

The way that ChatGPT works is generally slightly different from Google.

Rather than having to input your entire search inquiry into a static box, you can have a fluid back-and-forth “conversation” with ChatGPT to help flesh out what data you’re looking for.

In other engines, you need to narrow your own search either with your inquiry or with filters, but in ChatGPT, you can narrow it as you go.

If the tool gives you too broad of a response, you can respond with, “Can you get more specific about XYZ?” You get finely tuned search results, which is perfect for your use case.

I think this is a really beneficial part of ChatGPT. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m looking for, so asking a broader inquiry and then asking some follow-up questions is a great way to get clarity on my direction.

The drawback here is that ChatGPT’s answers aren’t always trustworthy. I struggle to take ChatGPT for its word, so when I find a result, I often input it into Google to confirm whether or not the result is fact.

Multimodal Search

One major trend related to ChatGPT and other AI tools is multimodal search, which takes place using input other than text (like images or sound). ChatGPT is now capable of making sense of voice, visual, and text input.

Google and other search engines also have this capability but to a different extent. Google can interpret vocal or visual input for the purpose of searching, but not for interpretation.

If you’re working in mixed media, ChatGPT’s multimodal tools are unmatched — you can have ChatGPT write product descriptions for products it can look at, for example. However, this use case is pretty different from something a person would define as a search engine use case.

I haven’t taken advantage of multimodal search much, primarily because it feels foreign.

It’s always been my understanding that reverse image search is a bit complicated, so I’m less comfortable using ChatGPT for this use case. I’m planning on experimenting more soon, though!

Is ChatGPT a search engine?

There’s a pretty substantial debate about whether or not ChatGPT is a search engine. Let’s look at some of the arguments on both sides.

Yes, ChatGPT is a search engine.

Those who argue that ChatGPT is already a search engine highlight three arguments. They are:

  • Information retrieval. A search engine takes an inquiry and retrieves information to respond to it. ChatGPT uses information from the Internet to formulate responses.
  • Assistance. A search engine intends to assist the user in satisfying their inquiry. While ChatGPT’s inquiries are different and broader than Google inquiries, both tools provide assistance.
  • Ease of use. A search engine implies ease of use, and both tools are simple for the average user to participate in.

No, ChatGPT is not a search engine.

However, there are certainly arguments against ChatGPT reaching search engine status. These are:

  • Link/site-based. Traditional search engines provide links, but ChatGPT does not cite sources at this time. Search engines also guide users to websites to answer their inquiries, while ChatGPT summarizes websites and adds its own information to provide a single conclusion to the user.
  • Often incorrect. While Google and Bing can send users to websites with inaccurate information, ChatGPT regularly provides answers and summaries that include hallucinated or made-up information. It’s not generally thought of as a reliable source.
  • Different use cases. ChatGPT‘s applications significantly differ from Google’s applications. While a person uses Google to find reliable information, a person can use ChatGPT to write content, create stories, build outlines, and summarize information.

Is ChatGPT a search engine?

While search engines can be defined differently, the most compelling result here, in my opinion, is that ChatGPT is not currently a search engine.

The strengths of ChatGPT are different and unique from other search engines, while the tool’s weaknesses are generally more similar to what defines a search engine.

ChatGPT hallucinates and summarizes information rather than provides sources. While the tool retrieves information, it performs that action differently from search engines.

What to Know About the ChatGPT Search Engine

Let’s look at the rumors and confirmed updates regarding whether or not there’s any intention to build a ChatGPT search engine that more easily aligns with the traditional definition of the term.

Rumors

On May 10, two representatives from OpenAI confirmed the intention to create a search engine product. There’s no reported release date, nor are there details about what the search engine product will entail.

chatgpt search, Sam Altman Tweet

Image Source

Sam Altman quickly followed the release of that rumor with a message posted on X, reading, “Not gpt-5, not a search engine, but we’ve been hard at work on some new stuff we think people will love! feels like magic to me.”

The news of the search product came only days before Google’s I/O conference, so readers thought it was possible OpenAI would release the tool. However, as of June 10, the search product has not been released.

However, there are additional rumors that OpenAI released the search product secretly. I asked ChatGPT whether it knew anything about this, and it seems that ChatGPT only knows as much as we know.

chatgpt search, message

Confirmed Updates

There are no confirmed updates since the original rumor on May 10, 2024, followed by Sam Altman’s X post.

What People can Expect

The ChatGPT search product is expected to leverage ChatGPT's capabilities and its ability to cite sources. It’s unclear whether or not it will be an entirely separate entity of ChatGPT or if it will also be able to do ChatGPT’s unique use cases.

Will ChatGPT replace Google Search?

As a marketer, I’m excited to see what ChatGPT releases as a search product. I expect that it may not look like the traditional search engine.

OpenAI has consistently proven itself to be a leader in innovation, so I suspect we will see some capabilities we’ve never seen before.

I also hope they address the hallucinations that make ChatGPT a pretty unreliable source of information. If people could use the tool for research and outlining reliably, it would significantly optimize my work.

In the great AI debate, I find myself confident that it can’t replace human emotion. I don’t think it will ever be as good of a storyteller as humans, so I’m not afraid to use it for what it’s great for.

We will have to see what is to come of the ChatGPT search product. Until then, I’ll be making the most of AI tools and search engines to create the most reliable, accurate work I can.

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