AI Is Much Better at Evolution Than Revolution

We’ve had almost a year now to assess whether Microsoft Corp.’s plan to add ChatGPT to its Bing search engine made any difference in the great battle against Google. It will come as no surprise to learn that it didn’t — Bing’s market share in online search has barely moved.

In fact, the last time most of us even thought about Bing, let alone used it, was last February, when Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella was doing the media rounds, chest puffed out, talking up how the fight was truly on. “It’s a new day in search,” he told the Financial Times. Microsoft’s shares jumped 4%.

Did Nadella truly believe it? I doubt it. Several months later, testifying in court as part of the antitrust case against Google, he offered a more plausible perspective: “Despite my enthusiasm that there is a new angle with AI, I worry a lot that this vicious cycle that I’m trapped in could get even more vicious.”

There’s a couple of takeaways from this. First, we should put tech CEOs under oath more often. Second, AI functionality, even really good AI functionality, is no silver bullet that can turn around an ailing product. Customers aren’t going to flock to something suddenly enhanced with artificial intelligence, nor are they going to go out of their way to embrace new stand-alone AI tools into their life and work. Habits are hard to shake, particularly when they are locked down by additional forces, such as Google’s $18 billion-a-year payment to Apple Inc. to ensure it is the default option on the iPhone.

People generally don’t bother adding more tech to their day unless compelled, either by profoundly enormous benefit or the need to make a paycheck. That applies even if you’re the most talked about tech product in a decade: Visits to ChatGPT through OpenAI’s own site have fallen from a peak of 1.8 billion in May 2023 to about 1.5 billion in December, according to data from SimilarWeb.