Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Me.

Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Me.

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The Shift

A start-up called Perplexity shows what’s possible for a search engine built from scratch with artificial intelligence.

An illustration of a man at a computer screen with a colorful array of objects behind it.
Credit…Yann Kebbi

By Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose used the Perplexity search engine for several weeks to report this column.

For my entire adult life, whenever I’ve had a question about the world or needed to track down something online, I’ve gone to Google for answers.

But recently, I’ve been stepping out on Google with a new, A.I.-powered search engine. (No, not Bing, which is dead to me after it tried to break up my marriage last year.)

It’s called Perplexity. The year-old search engine, whose founders previously worked in A.I. research at OpenAI and Meta, has quickly become one of the most buzzed-about products in the tech world. Tech insiders rave about it on social media, and investors like Jeff Bezos — who was also an early investor in Google — have showered it with cash. The company recently announced that it had raised $74 million in a funding round led by Institutional Venture Partners, which valued the company at $520 million.

Many start-ups have tried and failed to challenge Google over the years. (One would-be competitor, Neeva, shut down last year after failing to gain traction.) But Google seems less invincible these days. Many users have complained that their Google search results have gotten clogged with spammy, low-quality websites, and some people have started looking for answers in places like Reddit and TikTok instead.

Intrigued by the hype, I recently spent several weeks using Perplexity as my default search engine on both desktop and mobile. I tested both the free version and the paid product, Perplexity Pro, which costs $20 per month and gives users access to more powerful A.I. models and certain features, such as the ability to upload their own files.

Hundreds of searches later, I can report that even though Perplexity isn’t perfect, it’s very good. And while I’m not ready to break up with Google entirely, I’m now more convinced that A.I.-powered search engines like Perplexity could loosen Google’s grip on the search market, or at least force it to play catch-up.


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