Could AI upend Google’s dominance in search? Richard Socher certainly thinks so. In 2022, the computer scientist launched his own AI-based search engine, You.com, which he believes will improve upon Google’s biggest flaws: its thicket of advertisements; its incentive structure that leads to bad SEO microsites; its lack of privacy. Search is how most people interact with the internet—and it’s fundamentally broken, Socher argues. AI, he hopes, can fix it by giving us better, faster information.
The rollout of AI chatbots into search engines has proved messy over the past year. Bing’s AI chatbot interrogated a New York Times reporter about his love life, while Google’s Bard answered a question incorrectly in its first demo, knocking investor confidence in the company that led to a $100 billion drop in its shares. Socher, 40, argues that You.com limits such inaccuracies by incorporating live data from other trusted apps, like Wikipedia or Yelp, right into its chatbot. You.com cites its sources, meaning there should always be a digital paper trail going back to a fact’s genesis. Socher also touts his search engine’s focus on privacy. “We’re committed to not having privacy-invading ads that follow you around the internet,” he says.
Instead of relying on invasive ads, Socher plans to monetize You.com by charging apps to build on its platform, and offering a $15-a-month subscription for unlimited AI searching and personalized machine learning. At the moment, most of those costs are heavily subsidized from VC funding. (Investors in You.com include TIME co-chairs and owners Marc and Lynne Benioff)
You.com has a steep mountain to climb to even begin to compete with Google, particularly given the latter’s massive investments in the AI space. Socher even accuses Google of “copying many of our most exciting features,” including AI code generation and multimodal search. (A Google representative did not respond to a request for comment.)
But Socher has the bona fides to compete. His research in natural language processing was integral to the field’s advancement. And as a Stanford professor, he taught and advised the eventual founders of the startup Hugging Face. If his search engine actually is better than Google’s, Socher figures it will start to gain traction. “That’s the best you can hope for,” he says. “To give people answers more quickly, make them more productive, efficient, more well-informed, with better privacy.”
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