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Search and Destroy

Aravind Srinivas
While traditional search engines provide search results, Perplexity and its ilk provide answers. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

For the past several months, I’ve set Perplexity—a newish, conversational search engine powered by generative A.I.—as the default on all my devices. Rather than responding to search queries with a cascade of endless links, it offers conversational responses based on search results, and weaves in citations. It’s basically like having a text chat with a brilliant research assistant, someone who enables you to go deeper on a topic more quickly. In my short time using Perplexity, I’ve become convinced that generative A.I. services like this one are not only the future of web search, but will profoundly alter our collective relationship to the internet and information itself.

But the revolution is still nascent. Perplexity was founded less than two years ago, in August ’22, by former machine learning research scientists at OpenAI and Meta, and has emerged as one of the most groundbreaking products in the recent A.I. wave. It’s not the only A.I.-powered search product out there—several others have popped up that emphasize privacy, customization, academic focus, and more. But Perplexity feels like the most broadly useful of the bunch. Its ascent was coronated by a $1 billion valuation, based on $165 million in funding from prominent VC firms including New Enterprise Associates and Sequoia Capital, corporate investors like Nvidia and Databricks, and mega-rich individuals including Jeff Bezos, Susan Wojcicki, the former C.E.O. of YouTube, and Dylan Field, the C.E.O. of Figma.