ChatGPT-style search represents a 10x cost increase for Google, Microsoft
Is a ChatGPT-style search engine a good idea? The stock market certainly seems to think so, with it erasing $100 billion from Google's market value after the company's poor showing at its recent AI search event. Actually turning a chatbot into a viable business is going to be a challenge, though. Besides that fact, Google has had a chat search interface for seven years now—the Google Assistant—and the world's biggest advertising company has been unable to monetize it. And a new report from Reuters points out another monetary problem with generating a chat session for every search: That's going to cost a lot more to run compared to a traditional search engine.
Today Google search works by building a huge index of the web, and when you search for something, those index entries gets scanned and ranked and categorized, with the most relevant entries showing up in your search results. Google's results page actually tells you how long all of this takes when you search for something, and it's usually less than a second. A ChatGPT-style search engine would involve firing up a huge neural network modeled on the human brain every time you run a search, generating a bunch of text and probably also querying that big search index for factual information. The back-and-forth nature of ChatGPT also means you'll probably be interacting with it for a lot longer than a fraction of a second.
All that extra processing is going to cost a lot more money. After speaking to Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy (Alphabet is Google's parent company) and several analysts, Reuters writes that "an exchange with AI known as a large language model likely costs 10 times more than a standard keyword search" and that it could represent "several billion dollars of extra costs."