Perplexity’s Founder Was Inspired by Sundar Pichai. Now They’re Competing to Reinvent Search


Aravind Srinivas credit Google CEO Sundar Pichai for giving him the liberty to eat eggs.

Srinivas remembers the second seven years in the past when an interview with Pichai popped up in his YouTube feed. His vegetarian upbringing in India had excluded eggs, because it had for a lot of within the nation, however now, in his early twenties, Srinivas wished to start out consuming extra protein. Right here was Pichai, a hero to many aspiring entrepreneurs in India, casually describing his morning: waking up, studying newspapers, consuming tea—and consuming an omelet.

Srinivas shared the video together with his mom. OK, she mentioned: You possibly can eat eggs.

Pichai’s affect reaches far past Srinivas’ eating regimen. He too is CEO of a search firm, referred to as Perplexity AI, one of the vital hyped-up apps of the generative AI period. Srinivas continues to be taking cues from Pichai, the chief of the world’s largest search engine, however his admiration is extra sophisticated.

“It’s type of a rivalry now,” Srinivas says. “It’s awkward.”

Srinivas and Pichai each grew up in Chennai, India, within the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu—although the 2 have been born 22 years aside. By the point Srinivas was working towards his PhD in laptop science at UC Berkeley, Pichai had been topped chief govt of Google.

For his first analysis internship, Srinivas labored at Google-owned DeepMind in London. Pichai additionally obtained a brand new job that yr, changing into CEO of Alphabet in addition to Google. Srinivas discovered the work at DeepMind invigorating, however he was dismayed to search out that the flat he had rented sight unseen was a catastrophe—a “crappy residence, with rats,” he says—so he generally slept in DeepMind’s workplaces.

He found within the workplace library a ebook concerning the improvement and evolution of Google, referred to as In the Plex, penned by WIRED editor at giant Steven Levy. Srinivas learn it again and again, deepening his appreciation of Google and its improvements. “Larry and Sergey grew to become my entrepreneurial heroes,” Srinivas says. (He supplied to listing Within the Plex’s chapters and cite passages from reminiscence; WIRED took his phrase for it.)

Shortly afterwards, in 2020, Srinivas ended up working at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, as a analysis intern engaged on machine studying for laptop imaginative and prescient. Slowly, Srinivas was making his approach by means of the Google universe, and placing a few of his AI analysis work to good use.

Then, in 2022, Srinivas and three cofounders—Denis Yarats, Johnny Ho, and Andy Konwinski—teamed as much as try to develop a brand new strategy to look utilizing AI. They began out engaged on algorithms that might translate pure language into the database language SQL, however decided this was too slender (or nerdy). As a substitute they pivoted to a product that mixed a conventional search index with the comparatively new energy of huge language fashions. They referred to as it Perplexity.

Perplexity is typically described as an “reply” engine somewhat than a search engine, due to the best way it makes use of AI textual content technology to summarize outcomes. New searches create conversational “threads” on a specific subject. Kind in a question, and Perplexity responds with comply with up questions, asking you to refine your ask. It eschews direct hyperlinks in favor of text-based or visible solutions that don’t require you to click on away to someplace else to get info.

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