Artificial intelligence (AI) threatens the existence of millions of websites

There are hundreds of millions of what I call “independent” websites namely those owned by an individual person working alone and producing excellent content to educate and inform the public. The major source of their traffic comes from Google search and other search engines to a lesser extent.

Other sources of traffic are social media and direct visits in which the person goes directly to the website because they like it. Or there might be a link on another website pointing to the site in question.

But the major source of traffic is Google search. Of course, Google search is modified substantially by the fact that websites pay to have their site listed at the top of Google search results in an advert. That’s all part and parcel of the commercialisation of search engines. It’s entirely normal.

AI will threatens content websites
AI will threatens content websites. Image: DALLE E and MikeB
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In general, the Internet is not formally or officially regulated or managed. In effect it is the big search engines like Google that run the Internet together with big social media sites like Facebook. Occasionally governments complain and seek to introduce legislation to restrict and manage these behemoths to protect the public but this is a very slow-moving process and it’s questionable.

But something is emerging which is unquestionable which is that artificial intelligence (AI) threatens the very existence of millions of websites dependent on Google search.

You may have heard of a website where you can ask questions and the answers are provided by an artificial intelligence computer called ChatGPT in excellent English. In some ways it substitutes a search engine because a lot of people ask Google questions which responds by providing in a list of websites where the answer to the question can be found.

Because ChatGPT arguably provides an existential threat to the commercial viability of Google, they have introduced their own AI rival to ChatGPT called “Bard”. It is a conversational AI service that “can be an outlet for creativity and a launch pad for curiosity” said Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai.

He says that Bard will be able to explain things such as “new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb space telescope”. And people can learn about an infinite variety of things from football to science.

The service is going to be launched tomorrow and initially will be given to testers and then rolled out for public use in the coming weeks.

Bard is going to be an existential threat to millions of small websites in my view. It depends how it rolls out and how people use it. I know, however, that a lot of usage of Google search is asking a question to find a specific answer. It seems to me that Bard can provide those answers.

Unusually, too, is that the answers, as I see it, are not copyright protected and therefore they can be copied and pasted into an essay or another website. This is added value.

I don’t see Bard completely undermining the search engines. Not at all. It will be an added service. However, it will be another brick in the monopolisation of the Internet by businesses such as Bing and Google.

They’ve already eroded the independent websites by providing drop-down answers taken from websites on their website. These are small text segments taken from websites answering questions. It means that web surfers stay on the search engine’s website rather than clicking on the link to the independently owned website. This obviously has a negative impact on the number of visitors to these smaller websites.

So, Bard will impact content websites negatively. We don’t know how much but it might be enough to encourage website owners to stop working and to archive their site or sell it or simply delete it.

I don’t see that as an advancement in general terms because it restricts diversity. It means that people will be learning things from the sayings of a very smart computer which has been programmed by someone. Who?!

I see it as a negative step but I guess I would as I own one of those smaller websites. Although, to be sure, PoC has more than 20,000 pages!

Google must have chewed on this problem for a while because Bard could lose them revenue as losing websites would reduce advertising revenue. Google always promotes the creation of webpages and websites for this reason.

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