a person with a notebook computer silhouetted against the OpenAI logo

Eagle-eyed AI watchers suspect that a ChatGPT search engine product — in other words a direct competitor to Google Search — will be here in a matter of days.

Yesterday, a post in Y Combinator’s Hacker News community noted that a domain name and a security certificate for “search.chatgpt.com” had been created, although that address currently leads to nothing. This could mean anything. A developer at OpenAI could have created that address and certificate for some internal purpose for all anyone knows, and then some investment-minded person who uses automated tools to breathlessly monitor hot domains like ChatGPT.com for changes that might make for hot stock tips jumped to a conclusion.

For good measure, AI influencer Pete Huang tweeted “Search (dot) ChatGPT (dot) com May 9th,” also yesterday. And here we are in downtown Rumorville. Still, the rumor is plausible, and feeds speculation that has been going strong ever since ChatGPT first debuted.

Mashable asked OpenAI for comment, and will update if we hear back.

What would a ChatGPT search product be like?

To understand what this might mean, you might first imagine a search engine, but one powered by an AI algorithm. Are you imagining Google? You’re imagining right, because Google is powered by an AI algorithm. But since this would be a search engine under the ChatGPT umbrella, we should probably imagine something closer to Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE).

If Google’s search-engine-with-chatbot mode is what OpenAI is mimicking, the user will search normally, and receive a page of links in classic web style, but as a side dish there’ll be a little widget at the top of the page offering to let the Gemini large language model take a stab at answering the query, which the user can click a button to trigger, meaning the AI answer is still optional. 

For users with this feature turned on when it was new, Google used to load a bunch of traditional search results, and then a few seconds later the Generative AI answer would unexpectedly open wide like a robotic mouth toward the top of the page spewing non-optional AI text. The effect was rather creepy, like watching a Big Mouth Billy Bass start talking. Hopefully ChatGPT isn’t going in that direction.

The reverse of this, ChatGPT with an external search engine integrated into it, already exists for paid ChatGPT users, but ChatGPT’s search engine access sometimes disappears for some users, and is occasionally disabled altogether. So the integration of OpenAI’s search and chatbot capabilities hasn’t been rolled out smoothly to say the least.

a Microsoft Copilot query about current news, followed by a list of current news stories

Credit: Mashable screengrab via Microsoft

A non-paywalled version of this also exists within Microsoft Copilot, formerly known as Bing Chat. Ask the chatbot a question that a large language model can’t plausibly answer, and you get a summary of search results instead. The Google Gemini chatbot can also search the web in this way.

At any rate, this move feeds into the narrative of inevitability being spread by the biggest names in tech right now, about how AI will replace the web as we know it. In fact, a dedicated ChatGPT search page might already be an outmoded idea if Bill Gates was right a year ago, when he said that when AI tech fully blossoms, “You’ll never go to a search site again.”