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Ask Jeeves founder says AI chatbots can finally realise his dream

The Ask.com Jeeves balloon moves through Times Square in New York 23 November, 2000, during the 74th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Getty Images)
The Ask.com Jeeves balloon moves through Times Square in New York 23 November, 2000, during the 74th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Getty Images)

The co-founder of the search engine Ask Jeeves has said that artificial intelligence chatbots like ChatGPT have the potential to finally fulfil his vision for how the internet should operate.

Garrett Gruener, who now works as a venture capitalist in California, said his original conception for Ask Jeeves was similar to what Microsoft is currently trying to achieve by incorporating ChatGPT into its Bing engine.

When Ask Jeeves launched in 1997, it set itself apart from the competition by encouraging users to ask questions using “natural language” rather than just keywords.

At the time, however, machine learning and language recognition tools were not advanced enough for the search engine to function effectively in this way.

“It became clear that the web needed search but that mere mortals without computer-science degrees needed something easy, even conversational,” he told The Atlantic in a recent interview.

“We tried to discern what people were trying to say in search, but without actually doing the natural-recognition part of it.”

Ask Jeeves was one of the most popular sites on the internet in the early days of the web, handling more than 1 million queries every day.

But its dominance was ultimately eclipsed following the arrival of Google, with Mr Gruener selling it for just under $2 billion in 2005 before he was able to fully realise his so-called “master plan”.

This involved transforming Ask Jeeves into a digital concierge that would serve as an all-encompassing version of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

“If you look at Amazon’s Alexa, they’re essentially using the same approach we designed for Jeeves, just with voice,” Mr Gruener said.

“We were right for the consumer back then, and maybe we’d be right now. But at some point the consumer evolved... Ultimately, as the tech has come around, the big guys have come around to what we were trying to do.”