Published: March 2023
How to search the Internet in the age of “artificial intelligence”.
Way back in 2005, then Google CEO Eric Schmidt argued in an interview that the provision of multiple results by Google in response to a search query was in fact a “bug”. Ideally, Schmidt said about the “future of search”, Google should be able to “give you the right answer just once”:
“We should be able to give you the right answer just once, we should know what you meant, we should look for information, we should give it exactly right, we should give it to you in your language, and we should never be wrong.” (Eric Schmidt, 2005)
“Giving the right answer just once” may sound like a modern and appealing perspective, but when it comes to complex topics, it also sounds like a rather technocratic and dangerous perspective: we already know the right answer, we will give you the right answer, and you do not have to think.
The emergence of “artificial intelligence” systems and AI-powered bots, such as ChatGPT, will no doubt revolutionize many fields and applications, including Internet search. These AI bots have the ability to process the contents of the entire Internet in a meaningful way and in real-time.
But much of what is written on the Internet is biased or plain wrong, and the people who “train” these AI bots may themselves be biased or wrong on many topics. Moreover, current AI bots are “large language models” that simply extrapolate text without any understanding or rational analysis.
Numerous researchers have already found that ChatGPT often provides biased, false, or plausibly-sounding but entirely fictitious answers, a phenomenon known as “hallucination” or “confabulation”. Future AI bots may or may not overcome these inherent weaknesses of large language models.
On covid-related topics, for instance, answers provided by ChatGPT look like something a New York Times journalist or a Wikipedia activist might have written (and probably did write).
In short, a rational person should never just rely on a “single right answer” provided by any search engine or AI bot. Rather, the only entity that can provide any answers is the rational person himself or herself. Everybody else, including powerful AI chat bots, can only provide suggestions.
Obviously, AI-powered bots also have some rather dystopian potential, especially in combination with global surveillance, robotics, and technocratic-totalitarian ideology.
Internet Search Engines in 2023
In 2023, there are still only five truly independent search engines.
With a market share of up to 90%, Google Search remains by far the largest search engine. Initially funded by US intelligence to “retain information superiority”, Google also provides by far the most manipulated and censored search results and search suggestions out there (see annex below).
Essentially, Google Search has become an online prison library, and advanced Internet users employ Google mainly to monitor the current extent of censorship, not to actually search for anything. Just last year, a UN communications director told the WEF how the UN “owns the science” and how they “partnered with Google” to ensure “all kinds of UN resources are at the top of your search”.
With a global market share of just 3%, the most important competitor of Google Search is Microsoft Bing. Although Microsoft is also a US intelligence contractor and Bing has started to suppress some search results in recent years, overall Bing is still a powerful and useful search engine.
Most other well-known “search engines” are really only affiliates of Microsoft Bing or Google Search and simply provide search results sourced from these corporations. Examples include DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and Qwant (Microsoft Bing affiliates) and Startpage (Google affiliate).
The only other Western search engine that has developed a fully independent search index – of currently about six billion webpages – is the British Mojeek search engine. Mojeek appears to have an honest focus on user privacy (no tracking) and the provision of uncensored search results.
Another noteworthy search engine is American Brave Search. Brave uses a synthetic web index that provides results very similar to Google Search. However, in 2022 Brave launched the “Goggles” feature that allows users to filter search results according to various criteria, such as excluding or including the largest media outlets or focusing on a certain political perspective.
Beyond these Western search engines, there is one Russian search engine, Yandex, and one Chinese search engine, Petal Search, that provide comprehensive English-language search results. Yandex is known for its often contrarian search results, while Petal Search was developed by Huawei in response to US technology sanctions and provides a quite different view of the Internet.
In addition, Swiss meta-search engine eTools combines results from Google, Bing, Yandex, Brave, Mojeek and some other providers in a transparent and configurable way.
See also: The Search Engine Map (Mojeek)
Read more: Advanced Online Media Use (SPR, 2023)
Google search engine market share
Google: Why censorship is important
Google vs. Bing
Coronavirus: a “planned pandemic” (Bing) or “planning tools” (Google)?
Google vs. Yandex
Pfizer vaccine: “booster” (Google) or “deaths” (Yandex)?
The Search Engine Map
- The new mind control (Dr. Robert Epstein, Aeon, 2016)
- How the CIA made Google (Nafeez Ahmed, Medium, 2015)
- Google is not what it seems (Julian Assange, Wikileaks, 2014)
- The Military Origins of Facebook (Whitney Webb, Unlimited Hangout, 2021)
- Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet (Yasha Levine, 2018)