Ever since I began working in the digital industry, the web browser has delivered the outcome for much of my endeavours. Websites; static and authenticated. PWAs, SPAs, content delivery and APIs. Web browser technology is so ubiquitous, most people use it without thinking about it. Today's browsers can run seriously meaty websites. Most applications can run entirely in browsers. We rely on browsers to keep our data safe as we share passwords, transact or upload sensitive personal information.
Perhaps though, this moment in time will be remembered as the peak of browser proliferation.
What would be the trigger for a decline? Artificial Intelligence, of course. Much of the conversation around AI in recent months has been centred on the tasks that AI can perform for humans. But my prediction is that Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT will also have a profound effect on how we interact, in ways which are hard for us to imagine at this moment. I think back to the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and recall some of the commentary at the time of it being an iPod with a phone attached. Oh, and you can browse the internet. And it's this last element which has had such a radical effect on our lives and culture. Not because one can browse the internet on a pocket-sized device, but because it is mobile. The internet is with us all the time, it is an ever-present part of our existence, connecting us to the world and people around us.
I believe it is a worthy comparison. 2023 is predicted to be AI's iPhone year. Becoming as ubiquitous a part of our lives as smartphones are. Current steps on this journey involve embedding LLM capabilities into browsers and search, availing us of new ways to find and decipher information. The ways these tools are used will surely evolve rapidly, but one observation is that this use of AI is merely to apply it to today's technology and thinking. Nonetheless, it is always worth being aware of how technology maturity leads to the birth of new systems and methods. This subsequent evolution is often only conceivable once today's innovation becomes tomorrow's commodity.
So, what of the browser? We need to be thinking of AI as a channel in its own right, not something which just augments what exists today. AI and LLMs will shepherd in new ways of interacting - where the established convention of stepping through screens will be turned on its head. AI will skip many of the steps we currently accept as part of a customer journey, landing users right at the final stage. Or taking it a step further, AI will deal with the whole interaction, making autonomous decisions, then simply report the outcome to the user. What does this mean for existing digital services? What will it mean to have a digital presence and how will brands distinguish themselves within this new ecosystem?
One such hint as to what is to come is through ChatGPT plugins. These allow for an organisation’s data and services to be exposed in real-time to ChatGPT. ChatGPT can then use this information within its own models. There is also the ability to connect multiple plugins. For example, in future we should be able to build a travel itinerary including transport, accommodation, food and activities, across multiple businesses all with a single purchase step. Or construct a healthcare plan to treat a certain condition across numerous providers.
Web browsers, powered by the language of user interface, give us access to more information, faster than we have ever known. The desire to view and experience content is unlikely to diminish or become less addictive. We can guarantee that experiences will become more immersive, with radically different ways for us to realise our desired outcomes. But through AI a powerful abstraction is coming. For the first time in the history of the web browser comes a challenger which may one day take the browser's current crown.