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Perplex me not

Perplexity AI logo is seen in this illustration taken January 4, 2024.

Perplexity AI logo is seen in this illustration taken January 4, 2024.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

When we talk about how artificial intelligence is a revolutionary technology, it comes with caveats. Chief among them is that large language models, which power popular AI chatbots like ChatGPT, are very good at giving stylistically accurate answers but often fall short with factually accurate answers.

AI hallucinations mean the answers sound right but are often made up. Case in point: Lawyers keep getting in trouble for citing fake cases, a trend wholly attributable to the advent of AI chatbots.

Perplexity, which bills itself as an AI search engine, won plaudits recently from The New York Times, particularly for its accuracy, so I decided to take this would-be Google replacement for a spin.

Sunday night was Grammy night, so I started simple: “Are the Grammys on right now?” to which I was told, nope, they aired last February. “Therefore, the event has already concluded and is not currently on.”

Well, that wasn’t right.

Next, I asked the chatbot to tell me who is nominated for Best Album at the awards ceremony, and it responded correctly with a bulleted list of this year’s nominees, nevermind that it didn’t know that the ceremony was taking place as we chatted.

Next, I asked a series of probing questions about the band Boygenius, which was nominated for numerous Grammy awards, and it performed quite well. There was one funky answer, but it pointed directly to a New York Times Magazine profile of the band, from which it sourced the information. (The nice thing about Perplexity is it cites its sources as it responds).

Having failed my first test, I decided to see how up-to-date Perplexity is. Mere minutes after Miley Cyrus won her first-ever Grammy, I asked Perplexity, “Has Miley Cyrus won a Grammy Award?” This time, it didn’t disappoint. “Yes, Miley Cyrus won her first Grammy Award in 2024 for Best Pop Solo Performance for her song ‘Flowers.’ This marked her first Grammy win after being nominated eight times throughout her career.” Correct! It cited just-published stories from NBC News, Rolling Stone, and Variety.

When Taylor Swift announced live in her acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album that she’s releasing her new album “The Tortured Poets Department” in April, it took about five minutes to get up-to-speed on that information.

My initial experiment showed that Perplexity was either up-to-date or out-of-date, not merely accurate or inaccurate like the other hallucination-prone chatbots I’ve tried. There are plenty of free and paid features I still have yet to try, but Perplexity very quickly took me to a place with AI that I didn’t think was near.


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