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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 much more skepticism about the possible collapse of Google or Adobe.
It’s the former in particular that seems to be “too big to fail”, as the latter is already feeling the pinch of workarounds in the graphic design sphere (like Canva or much, much cheaper Affinity Suite, which is already rolling out). taking charge of the main Adobe applications: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign).
After all, Google accounts for at least 85 percent of the global search market (although some estimates put it at 92 percent). It also has 70 percent of the market for smartphone operating systems, thanks to the popularity of Android, particularly in less developed countries.
How could anyone challenge such a giant, a monopolist in many ways?
Well, the lessons lie in history, including Google’s own rise to power.
We like to fool ourselves into thinking 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 years to come, or determine what our lives will be like decades from now.
Actually, even in this day and age of internet access and more information than we could imagine, we are still very bad at it.
Contrary to popular belief, innovation does not occur in a linear fashion; it often happens in unpredictable jumps, almost overnight, taking practicing leaders by surprise.
Google itself was not the first search engine. It was created at a time when Yahoo was one of the leaders of the dotcom revolution, and its value peaked at more than $100 billion when Sergey Brin and Larry Page were still students tinkering with technology in a garage.
But the technology behind Google was, at the time, more precise and versatile, and much more adaptable for global use. Yahoo was a US-focused news portal with search simply attached and similar clones (as is often the case in technology) were popping up all over the world, in each respective national market.
Google changed that by focusing on the search function itself, rather than the content, and building an underlying algorithm that would crawl the web and rank websites in terms of relevance to specific search queries, regardless of where you are.
He then monetized his service with advertising placed next to search results, allowing businesses to access them for a fee. This simple model is still the basis of the company’s existence, almost 25 years later.
Despite the enormity of the market, numbered in the tens of billions of dollars, no other company has managed to make a dent in Google’s dominance.
But this may change soon.
ChatGPT is another AI-powered solution launched by OpenAI, a research lab funded by the likes of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, or Microsoft. He was behind the amazing DALL E 2 AI image generator, which garnered attention in early 2022 with its ability to generate complex, often highly realistic images from simple user-entered queries.
ChatGPT, meanwhile, provides precise and natural responses to questions; in fact, almost any question you can think of (and it’s bound to get better). The system is so compelling that it can actually generate entire articles based on a single user input, pulling relevant information from a multitude of sources it was fed with.
This is what he told me about Singapore’s sources of wealth in just a few seconds:
From this rather general answer, you can move on to questions about specific points and get a more refined picture.
Assuming it’s accurate (which isn’t always the case right now), there’s a clear advantage to having such a chat assistant over doing a Google search, which is why Alphabet execs are alarmed by the sophistication of the tool.
To extract and organize specific information on a particular topic, you will typically need to visit a series of websites listed in Google results, and then read and locate the specific information you need.
Here, you only get a complete answer, focused on the information you requested.
But chat can also generate creative suggestions, just like a good friend would, without you having to navigate dozens of websites yourself. Like in this example:
At its founding, Google provided more precise search results, listing the pages/websites most relevant to your question. ChatGPT goes above and beyond by giving you a direct answer, with the information you’re looking for, and it does it in an often eerily human way.
But it has another trick up its sleeve: it can also generate creative content itself.
How about a poem about Singapore?
Yes, it may take a bit of polishing, but not bad for a service that is still, effectively, in a beta stage.
In other words, ChatGPT is not only a threat to Google, but also to many content creators, writers, media outlets, etc.
It is true that the system must receive certain information before it can produce anything. After all, he only knows as much as he is taught.
But this can be reduced to a few streams of data, facts and figures, with the AI generating news feeds (either text or voice, or even full video one day), or maybe even opinion pieces from different angles (learning the differences in the arguments made by the political left or right), in minutes or seconds, something that would take humans much longer.
And, most likely, at a fraction of the cost too.
This is really a double whammy for Google, which earns its revenue from both search and content (publishers place their banners around their articles).
Pretty quickly, we can ditch dated search results pages that list an endless stream of website links (often skewed by shady SEO practices, still pushing spam or potentially malicious links to high positions) and just use a solution that provides the exact answer. we are looking for in the vast majority of our information seeking activity.
Once the system is perfected and can process information in different languages, the collapse of Google as a leading search engine could be very fast.
And the fact that it took ChatGPT just five days to reach a million users only reinforces this observation:
Just do it
And it’s not like OpenAI wants to keep chat free either, as the running costs are, as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman describes it, “mind-blowing.”
A plan is already in place to monetize the solution, with revenue expected to reach US$1 billion by 2024, a huge leap from zero today.
Perhaps the chat itself will incorporate some advertising, or simply become a paid solution (perhaps with levels depending on the needs of the users). But the most interesting twist in this story is the involvement of Google’s longtime failed rival: Microsoft.
In 2019, the Redmond giant invested $1 billion in OpenAI, which may turn out to be one of the best technology investments ever.
After years of desperately chasing Google with its own search engine, Bing, Microsoft has announced that it will be adding some features to ChatGPT starting in March, with more integration expected over time.
This may be just the technological leap it needed to finally end Google’s dominance.
And it’s just one of many avenues the company can take to use the new technology, given its own near-monopoly on operating systems for personal computers.
Since OpenAI plans to make money from the technology, Bing, or Windows, it may soon be the main way for millions of people to access it for free (and convenient too).
It seems that Google was really surprised and it is not clear that even its billions of dollars can allow it to develop a competitive solution in time. After all, do you remember what happened with Nokia?
It had dominance in the mobile phone market, it had the money, it even launched smartphones, and yet it was beaten within a few years and had to leave the industry altogether.
Will it happen to Google too? For the first time in history, we can actually say that it could be.
Featured Image Credit: Vikas Kulhari via Medium
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