The search engine DuckDuckGo is the most recent to adopt generative AI. The company just released the beta version of its new summarization tool, DuckAssist, which makes use of “natural language technology” developed by OpenAI and an AI research firm called Anthropic.
DuckAssist is like Bing, but not as good as ChatGPT. The summaries are primarily derived from Wikipedia, rather than a variety of other sources. Due to its “transparent editorial process and comprehensive list of references for all facts and opinions expressed,” Wikipedia(opens in new tab) was selected as DuckDuckGo’s default information source.
DuckAssist, the company says, will never provide you with information that is more than a few weeks old because the platform is constantly being updated. In some cases, the tool will access external resources like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Of course, Wikipedia will be the most popular.
To use DuckAssist, you need only follow a few straightforward steps. Simply type your query into DuckDuckGo, and you’ll get an instant summary, complete with a link to the relevant Wikipedia article. It will also include a link to the precise paragraph in that article where the data was first published.
With DuckAssist, “the two main benefits compared to other instant answers are that answers will be more directly responsive to user questions and that DuckAssist can answer significantly more questions,” Weinberg tells us. Whereas traditional instant answers typically pull out quotes, DuckAssist’s generative AI creates brand new text for a specific query. This allows DuckAssist to respond more quickly to the query, unearth information buried in articles, and synthesise data from multiple Wikipedia snippets. Therefore, it can provide more comprehensive responses to questions.
Since DuckAssist’s sole purpose is to expedite users’ discovery of accurate results, the feature is only presented as a choice when the underlying technology determines it is relevant to a user’s search.
“If DuckAssist thinks it might be able to find an answer from Wikipedia, you may see a magic wand icon and ‘Ask Me’ button at the top of your search results,” DDG explains.
In the event that another DDG user has requested the same answer, the company promises that it will be displayed automatically; however, it is worth noting that users can disable Instant Answers (which includes DuckAssist) in the settings if they so choose.
According to Weinberg, the feature works because DDG scans the web for “specific/relevant sections of Wikipedia articles” and uses artificial intelligence to generate new responses written in natural language. (“to identify the relevant chunks of text from Wikipedia, and then ask the models to format answers in a way that is directly responsive to the query,” he says, “is how DDG is using its own indexing technology.”)
Is it worth?
Applications of generative AI are often met with scepticism due to accuracy concerns; this is because the technology is not immune to inaccuracy, and yet automated output wrapped in a natural language veneer can sound very authoritative without being verified.
Weinberg claims that DuckAssist’s design increases the likelihood that it will provide a correct answer while also informing users that the answer is automated and providing links to the reference sources so that users can independently verify the information (in the event that DuckAssist turns out to be more of a “ass” than a “assistant”).