- Questions remain about the profitability of AI search engines
The way people search for information online could soon be changing as artificial intelligence continues to advance, and with it a new company could dethrone what has long been the king of online searching.
“It’s certainly conceivable that AI could ultimately replace search, especially if AI can learn what its user wants and deliver more relevant responses,” Jon Schweppe, the policy director of the American Principles Project, told Fox News Digital while cautioning that there are still a lot of unknowns with the technology. “We are in the nascent stages of the AI revolution and it’s still not clear that these companies know how to monetize it.”
The comments come as new search product called Perplexity has quickly become one of the most talked about platforms in technology, with an AI-driven search function that rivals or even bests traditional search platforms such as Google and Bing, according to a report from the New York Times.
The company, which is a year old and was founded by people who previously worked in AI research at OpenAI and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has been the benefactor of a boom of investments in recent months. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also was an early investor in Google, is one such investor in a round that saw the company bring in $74 million and brought its total value to $520 million, according to the report.
The report notes that although the interface of the landing page has many similarities to Google, the user experience is much different and in some cases better than traditional search. One feature noted was Perplexity’s “Copilot,” which asks a user clarifying questions that help narrow down the search instead of presenting pages of possible results.
Jake Denton, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, told Fox News Digital that issues with current search engines could open the door for companies such as Perplexity to take over the top spot in the industry. Among those issues is a desire to filter or censor results, Denton argued, denying users the information they were actually looking for.
“That’s why startups like Perplexity are taking a totally different approach – giving people unfiltered results without the usual Big Tech manipulation,” Denton said. “Perplexity already outperforms browsers like Google in so many areas because they’re focused on quality and accuracy, not this top-down censorship and control of information.”
But not everyone is convinced the technology will truly be able to take over search.
“AI will probably not replace search engines, but it will likely become the way you interface with them,” Christopher Alexander, the chief analytics officer of Pioneer Development Group, told Fox News Digital. “What AI agents can do effectively is make the unnatural way we search for information by entering key terms and make the process of researching information more human. This is accomplished through Natural Language Processing, which allows for a human conversation about what a user wants to understand.”
Phil Siegel, the founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation (CAPTRS), told Fox News Digital that AI is capable of replacing some of today’s search functions, most notably in cases the user is unsure of what they are searching for. However, Siegel questioned the business model for AI-driven search and whether it can be profitable.
“The question is the business model for open end search. When one searches for a movie quote the engine knows to serve you movies or theaters, maybe even like the one you’re searching for. And it can charge for that,” Siegel said.
Siegel argued that AI-driven search platforms may turn out to be more of a “niche” product, making money by charging people to use the service.
Perplexity may be ahead of that game when it comes to monetizing the platform, the New York Times report notes, releasing a Perplexity Pro product which charges users $20 per month and includes features such as a more powerful AI model and the ability to upload their own files.
Another obstacle for Perplexity is that the company will also have to compete with companies such as Google and Microsoft in AI development, Bull Moose Project President Aiden Buzzetti argued, noting that both Google and Bing have begun refund their own AI tools in conjunction with their browsers.
“Its current form helps aggregate quick and easy information similar to the toolboxes they’d put in the browsers, just in a more responsive form,” Buzzetti told Fox News Digital. “I believe it’s highly likely that AI tools will become even more prevalent to sift through information.”
But Buzzetti also noted some concerns for users of the technology, including censorship and hallucination from AI.
“Information literacy will be more important than ever — but how will we know when the AI gives us correct information, or how will we determine which source is the right source? Which data points are included or excluded? This debate exists within the current concept of search engines. It will likely accelerate,” Buzzetti said.
Chase Reid, the CEO of Mutable, offered similar concerns, telling Fox News Digital that questions still remain about whether AI should be trusted with searches.
“Should we delegate such a critical function to AI?” Reid asked. “If the potential for unsatisfactory performance lingers and exceeds just rudimentary hallucinations that lend themselves to technical solution, what implications will this have for broad adoption? And more importantly, what implications will it have for commercial or business use?”
Meanwhile, Federalist staff editor Samuel Mangold-Lenett argued it is just as likely that Google or another large tech company will eventually buy out an upstart competitor like Perplexity.
“Realistically what will happen is Google’s parent company or another tech giant will buy these companies and incorporate them into their flagship programs,” Mangold-Lenett said. “That’s been their strategy with startups that could become competitors down the road for years.
For its part, a Google spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the company has been using AI such as large language models “for years” to “vastly improve the quality of search results and provide quick answers.”
“Now, we’re seeing strong user satisfaction with our gen AI experiments in Search, and we’re already rolling out these capabilities more broadly in features like Lens,” the spokesperson said. “With this technology, we’re capturing the opportunity to answer new types of questions and make Google radically more helpful for people.”