Why Gen AI is not going to replace consumer web search

Why Gen AI is not going to replace consumer web search

Generative AI is not going to replace consumer web search but such a goal, we argue would be an 'under-ambition' for this new technology.

When a new thing is invented, most people have difficulty understanding it because their mental model of the world simply does not imagine a world with such an innovation. One way people approximate it is by trying to map a concept they already know and is similar to the new thing, and then simply substitute it with the new invention. For example, the bulb replaces the candle, the car replaces horses, and AI replaces web search.

This is a helpful step to understand new innovations, but it's not enough. Bulbs don't just replace candles; they produce so much light that they completely change how we spend our nights, increasing the amount of work people do after dark. Today, there are far more bulbs than there ever were candles. The same applies to cars. There are so many cars everywhere that it would be impossible to breed an equivalent number of horses.

People intuitively think that Gen AI is similar to Google search. When we want to know something, we ask either Google or ChatGPT. Hence we can replace Google search with Gen AI. But AI is lot more than merely searching information from web. AI can understand our language and translate into actions. For example, it can open doors, turn lights on and off and it can start our car.

While web search remains one of the most important way we consume information, Gen AI might eliminate the need to do lot of web searches by solving the problems more pro-actively for us. For example, a lot of my searches are about "how do I do this in Excel" or "Which is the best dishwasher detergent to use". But when these AI tools are integrated into my shopping app and in the Excel itself, I use them without having to going to Google search.

In my daily activities which involve writing a lot of code, I often had to resort to Google search which took me to stack overflow for lot of solutions but with Github Copilot being part of my IDE, I get code recommendations automatically.

Fixed Pie vs Pie Expansion

The mental models we have think of the world as a fixed pie. If a new tech is introduced it means it will take the share of some existing market which means something else will be pushed out. This is not true.

Technology expands the pie. In this context it means people will integrate GenAI into every aspect of our life. From our kitchens to smartwatches, to salesforce dashboards to digital ad displays to manufacturing process. The number of queries going to GenAI will dwarf human done web searches by a huge margin.

GenAI's ubiquitous nature will mean some reduction in web searches but ultimately, people will rely on web search as well to go to the source of article directly.

Web content powers the GenAI

What is ultimately powering GenAI is the human generated content online. This content needs to be generated in order for GenAI to get better and there is simply no alternative. This means human generated content will be even more important and will be seen has higher quality content.

Web search is much faster thant GenAI based models and hence for real time options we will all rely on Web search though, the interface for it might be like that of chat.


GenAI brings an exciting future. More opportunities and more transformational change but it wont replace web search, it will overshadow it.

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