Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?

Last year, Google Search and other web-based Google properties, which span many countries and languages, accounted for $149 billion in revenues. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 22 December 2022
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Does AI threaten the future of Google Search?

  • Some experts believe emerging technology such as ChatGPT and Noor could challenge Google’s dominance
  • The latest AI bots certainly have the potential to revolutionize web searches but, for now at east, they have limitations

LONDON: Google Search is in peril, some people believe. The ubiquitous search engine, which has been the gateway to the internet for billions of people worldwide for the past two decades, faces “existential threats,” they say, that are forcing parent company Alphabet’s management to declare a “code red.”

“Google may be only a year or two away from total disruption,” Paul Buchheit, a Gmail developer wrote in a message posted on Twitter this month. “(Artificial Intelligence) will eliminate the search engine result page, which is where they make most of their money.”

Buchheit continued by predicting that AI could transform and replace the internet-search industry in much the same way the way Google effectively destroyed the formerly successful Yellow Pages model of printed telephone directories of businesses, which had thrived for many decades.

AI and chatbot services such as ChatGPT are already beginning to revolutionize the way people carry out research online by providing users with an unprecedented level of convenience and speed.

Unlike traditional search engines, which rely on keyword-matching to provide results, AI chatbots use advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to understand the deeper intent behind a user’s query.

As a result, ChatGPT is capable of responding to more complex requests, building simple codes, working out difficult issues, and chatting in a relatively human-like manner. Contrast this with Google, which can only provides users with the links and tools they need to carry out detailed research themselves.

Because the results are shown in real time and more accurately reflect what is actually being asked, natural language processing services such as ChatGPT provide access to all the information users require, through a conversational AI interface, in a fraction of the time it would take them to manually search for it.

In other words, as many experts have been quick to point out, ChatGPT performs many similar tasks to Google — only better.

Google is one of several businesses, research facilities and experts who have contributed to the development of ChatGPT, which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer. It is a groundbreaking collaborative project spearheaded by a research lab called OpenAI, which is also behind DALL-E, an AI-powered system that generates images from natural language descriptions provided by a user.

Although Google’s own search engine already exploits the power of AI in an effort to enhance the service it provides and deliver more relevant results to users, some experts believe the tech giant might struggle to compete with the newer, smaller companies developing these AI chatbots, because of the many ways the technology could hurt its existing business model.

In April, the Technology Innovation Institute, a cutting-edge research hub in Abu Dhabi, unveiled a service similar to ChatGPT, called Noor. The biggest Arabic-language natural language processing model to date, it is intended to provide the Arab region with a competitive edge in the field, given that technologies such as chatbots, market intelligence, and machine translation traditionally have tended to significantly favor English- and Chinese-language markets.

Last year, Google Search and other web-based Google properties, which span many countries and languages, accounted for $149 billion in revenues. The disruptive power of services such as ChatGPT and Noor therefore could represent a significant blow to Google’s parent company Alphabet and its business model.

“The potential for something like OpenAI’s ChatGPT to eventually supplant a search engine like Google isn’t a new idea but this delivery of OpenAI’s underlying technology is the closest approximation yet to how that would actually work in a fully fleshed out system, and it should have Google scared,” TechCrunch US managing editor Darrell Etherington wrote this month.

However, it is still early days and, as Jacob Carpenter points out, “the idea of upstart AI firms supplanting Google feels premature” given Alphabet can call on its significant resources to help see off any potential competition.

ChatGPT, described as the most advanced AI chatbot in the market, is available in several regions and supports a variety of languages, including Arabic. However, despite the enormous advances it undoubtedly represents, limitations remain.

In its current form, ChatGPT is unable to access the internet or other external sources of information, which means it cannot respond to or provide geo-based recommendations.

Moreover, the training data for its model only goes up to 2021, so the program often offers incorrect or biased answers, which means the service, at least for now, is not a reliable source of information.

Although the buzz generated by ChatGPT and Noor is likely to attract users and investors, which will help the technology to further develop, significant skepticism remains as to whether such AI chatbots will ever be able to do to Google Search what Google Search did to Yellow Pages.

For all the lofty claims from some experts about the potential of advanced-language models — and although it is important to recognize that they do offer distinct advantages, enhanced abilities and a different user experience to existing Google services that has the potential to revolutionize the way we search for things on the web — it is also important to be aware that even the developers of ChatGPT have said the technology is “not a direct competitor to Google Search and is not likely to replace it.”


Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Updated 21 June 2024
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Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

  • Maha Hussaini accuses International Women’s Media Foundation of bowing to pressure she says is typical of the systematic attacks Palestinian journalists face
  • Foundation’s decision follows a report by a conservative publication that accused Hussaini of support for Hamas and antisemitic comments

LONDON: A group that represents women in journalism has rescinded a Courage in Journalism award it presented this month to Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini.

The decision by the International Women’s Media Foundation follows a report this week by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in the US, that alleged the freelance writer, who is based in Gaza, had posted messages on social media several years ago in which she praised terrorist actions by Hamas on at least two occasions and shared antisemitic cartoons.

The foundation said the comments in the posts “contradict the values of our organization,” adding: “Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

Hussaini was named on June 10 as one of four recipients of the Courage Award, for her reporting during the war in Gaza. Her work included a story about the challenges women face giving birth at home during the conflict, and a harrowing account of a young girl who carried her paralyzed brother to safety during military bombing campaigns.

The IWMF describes itself as “a bold and inclusive organization that supports journalists where they are.” Its board and advisory council include prominent media figures such as former CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and CNN TV news anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Hussaini denounced the decision to rescind the award, accusing the Washington-based foundation of “succumbing to pressure” and “choosing to act contrary to courage.” She added that it “starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers.”

Ina message posted on social media platform X, she added: “Each announcement of an award to a Palestinian journalist is systematically followed by extensive smearing campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organizations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby.

“While some organizations uphold their principles and maintain their decision … others, regrettably, cave to the pressure and withdraw the prizes.”

Hussaini said she had “no regrets about any posts” and said her social media comments reflected her experiences of living under Israeli occupation and simply expressed support for resistance efforts.

The foundation’s decision was widely criticized by journalists and media groups. Some suggested Hussaini was the victim of a “vicious campaign,” others described the output of the Washington Free Beacon as “decadent and unethical” and said it had a history of targeting supporters of the Palestinian cause.


UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

Updated 21 June 2024
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UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

  • Robert Winnett is accused of using unethical methods to obtain information
  • Winnet’s candidacy faced criticism from Post staff who scrutinized his past

WASHINGTON: British journalist Robert Winnett will not be joining the Washington Post as its editor, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed, following media reports that he used unethical methods to obtain information while working with the Sunday Times.
Post publisher Will Lewis had named Winnett, a former colleague who serves as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, to the role earlier this month after the exit of Sally Buzbee, the first woman to lead the storied newsroom. The reversal means Winnett will remain at the Daily Telegraph, which he joined in 2007.
“It is with regret that I share with you that Robert Winnett has withdrawn from the position of Editor at The Washington Post,” Lewis said in the memo on Friday.
The New York Times reported last Saturday that Lewis and Winnett used fraudulently obtained records in articles at London’s Sunday Times newspaper. On Sunday, the Post published a report detailing Winnett’s ties to John Ford, who has admitted to using illegal methods to gain information for stories.
Lewis did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment, while Winnett declined to comment.
Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans said in an internal memo, “I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us. As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”
The Post’s memo showed that it has started a search for a new editor and that Matt Murray, former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, will lead the newsroom and continue in his role as executive editor until after the US elections.
The newspaper, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of many news outlets struggling to maintain a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post last year offered voluntary buyouts across the company to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
A report in the Post last month said the newspaper was planning to create new subscription tiers called Post Pro and Post Plus to draw more money from its readers after losing $77 million over the past year.


TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

Updated 21 June 2024
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TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

  • ByteDance-owned company said in court letter that Committee on Foreign Investment ceased negotions after submitting draft security agreement

LONDON: TikTok disclosed a letter Thursday that accused the Biden administration of engaging in “political demagoguery” during high-stakes negotiations between the government and the company as it sought to relieve concerns about its presence in the US
The letter — sent to David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division, before President Biden signed the potential TikTok ban into law — was submitted in federal court along with a legal brief supporting the company’s lawsuit against measure. TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is expected to be one of the biggest legal battles in tech and Internet history.
The internal documents provide details about negotiations between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive inter-agency panel that investigates corporate deals over national security concerns, between January 2021 and August 2022.
TikTok has said those talks ultimately resulted in a 90-page draft security agreement that would have required the company to implement more robust safeguards around US user data. It would have also required TikTok to put in a “kill switch” that would have allowed CFIUS to suspend the platform if it was found to be non-compliant with the agreement.
However, attorneys for TikTok said the agency “ceased any substantive negotiations” with the company after it submitted the draft agreement in August 2022.
CFIUS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department said it is looking forward to defending the recently enacted legislation, which it says addresses “critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations.”
“Alongside others in our intelligence community and in Congress, the Justice Department has consistently warned about the threat of autocratic nations that can weaponize technology — such as the apps and software that run on our phones – to use against us,” the statement said. “This threat is compounded when those autocratic nations require companies under their control to turn over sensitive data to the government in secret.”
The letter sent to Newman details additional meetings between TikTok and government officials since then, including a March 2023 call the company said was arranged by Paul Rosen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for investment security.
According to TikTok, Rosen told the company that “senior government officials” deemed the draft agreement to be insufficient to address the government’s national security concerns. Rosen also said a solution would have to involve a divestment by ByteDance and the migration of the social platform’s source code, or its fundamental programming, out of China.
TikTok’s lawsuit has painted divestment as a technological impossibility since the law requires all of TikTok’s millions of lines of code to be wrested from ByteDance so that there would be no “operational relationship” between the Chinese company and the new US app.
After the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2023 that CFIUS had threatened ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban, TikTok’s attorneys held another call with senior staff from the Justice and Treasury departments where they said leaks to the media by government officials were “problematic and damaging.”
That call was followed by an in-person meeting in May 2023 between TikTok’s attorneys, technical experts and senior staff at the Treasury Department focused on data safety measures and TikTok’s source code, the company’s attorneys said. The last meeting with CFIUS occurred in September 2023.
In the letter to Newman, TikTok’s attorneys say CFIUS provides a constructive way to address the government’s concern. However, they added, the agency can only serve this purpose when the law — which imposes confidentiality — and regulations “are followed and both sides are engaged in good-faith discussions, as opposed to political subterfuge, where CFIUS negotiations are misappropriated for legislative purposes.”
The legal brief also shared details of, but does not include, a one-page document the Justice Department allegedly provided to members of Congress in March, a month before they passed the federal bill that would require the platform to be sold to an approved buyer or face a ban.
TikTok’s attorneys said the document asserted TikTok collects sensitive data without alleging the Chinese government has ever obtained such data. According to the company, the document also alleged that TikTok’s algorithm creates the potential for China to influence content on the platform without alleging the country has ever done so.


Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association observes International Federation meetings in London

  • The meetings discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones

LONDON: The Saudi Journalists Association took part on Wednesday as an observer in the International Federation of Journalists’ meetings in London.

The event, hosted by the UK National Union of Journalists, explored the impact of artificial intelligence on journalism and the safety of media professionals in conflict zones.

The IFJ, the world’s largest union of journalists’ trade unions, vowed to help develop journalists’ skills to adapt to the rapid evolution of journalistic tools, including the growing influence of AI.

Adhwan Al-Ahmari, chairman of the Saudi Journalists Association, emphasized the importance of collaborating with international press federations and knowledge exchange to further develop the Saudi association.

“This marks the first time the association has participated as an observer after joining the IFJ late last year,” Al-Ahmari said.

“Our goal is to play a more significant role within the federation in the coming period.”

The Saudi Journalists Association was founded in 2003 as a civil society body that acts as an umbrella for the country’s press professionals, enhancing their role and instilling a sense of responsibility towards their country and people.


Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Updated 19 June 2024
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Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

  • Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted as neutral source of information, Wikipedia editors conclude
  • Organization under scrutiny for its methods of tracking antisemitism and its rigid definition of the term

LONDON: Wikipedia has labelled the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Israeli civil rights organization, as “generally unreliable” for its work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively declassifying it as a top source on its pages.

Editors of the world’s largest online encyclopedia concluded that the ADL, known as the premier Jewish civil rights organization in the US, cannot be trusted as a neutral source of information about antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given in to the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who initiated the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.

Editors highlighted the definition of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement advocating for the creation of an Israeli state, as a key reason for the declassification.

The decision, which equates the ADL with tabloids, is a significant blow to the organization’s historical status as a key source of information regarding the tracking of antisemitism in the US.

The ADL has faced scrutiny for its methodologies and its rigid definition of antisemitism.

Experts repeatedly expressed skepticism about the organization’s decision to classify demonstrations featuring “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic.

Critics argue that this classification does not represent the full spectrum of antisemitism, because it excludes Jewish progressives and others critical of Israel.

The Forward, a US-Jewish newspaper, found at least 3,000 cases that raised concerns about the ADL’s logging system.

This decision appears to reflect ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s position that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop,” as he stated in a 2022 speech.

Greenblatt has often been criticized for his strong stance on the issue and has been accused of a partisan approach toward Israel.

In November, he endorsed Elon Musk, who had posted an antisemitic conspiracy theory on his X account, while more recently he described US student protests as Iranian “proxies” and compared the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to a swastika.

In a statement, the ADL said the Wikipedia decision was part of a “campaign to delegitimize the ADL.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.