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The Vindication of Ask Jeeves

The Atlantic, The Vindication of Ask Jeeves: “Garrett Gruener, the co-creator of Ask Jeeves, couldn’t beat Google, but he’s feeling just fine about the dawn of the chatbot era. It was a simpler time. A friend introduced us, pulling up a static yellow webpage using a shaky dial-up modem. A man stood forth, dressed in a dapper black pinstriped suit with a red-accented tie. He held one hand out, as if carrying an imaginary waiter’s tray. He looked regal and confident and eminently at my service. “Have a Question?” he beckoned. “Just type it in and click Ask!” And ask, I did. Over and over. With his steady hand, Jeeves helped me make sense of the tangled mess of the early, pre-Google internet. He wasn’t perfect—plenty of context got lost between my inquiries and his responses. Still, my 11-year-old brain always delighted in the idea of a well-coiffed man chauffeuring me down the information superhighway. But things changed. Google arrived, with its clean design and almost magic ability to deliver exactly the answers I wanted. Jeeves and I grew apart. Eventually, in 2006, Ask Jeeves disappeared from the internet altogether and was replaced with the more generic Many years later, it seems I owe Jeeves an apology: He had the right idea all along. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and the stunning popularity of generative-text tools such as ChatGPT, today’s search-engine giants are making huge bets on AI search chatbots. In February, Microsoft revealed its Bing Chatbot, which has thrilled and frightened early users for its ability to scour the internet and answer questions (not always correctly) with convincingly human-sounding language. The same week, Google demoed Bard, the company’s forthcoming attempt at an AI-powered chat-search product. But for all the hype, when I stare at these new chatbots, I can’t help but see the faint reflection of my former besuited internet manservant…”

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