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This digital agency is using gen AI tool Perplexity to speed up fact-finding


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

August 31, 2023 | 8 min read

We examine how Cubaka has found a use case – and some key limitations – in AI search tool Perplexity.

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Speeding up time spent on research can cut hours spent on a project or brief / Unsplash

Text-based generative AI tools aren’t just useful as writing aids. Applications that maintain a constant connection to the web (unlike, for example, ChatGPT 3 which operated from a closed dataset) can be used as advanced search engines. When used correctly, they can reveal more detailed answers than Google.

But given the factual errors and potential for bias exhibited by popular AI tools such as ChatGPT (which delivers incorrect results so frequently they’ve been dubbed ‘hallucinations’), it’s difficult to imagine using AI tools to aid in research with any degree of confidence.

At digital agency Cubaka, strategist Amanda Christensen has hit upon a solution in AI tool Perplexity. “A lot of the time when you’re searching for insights, you need to think in the way that an SEO engine might. How might it be worded for Google? Here, you can go the other way and think like a human. The vast majority of my job is finding insights with our audiences within each of our client’s markets and across social media and this is a really helpful way to streamline that process.

“Google can be quite hard for finding accurate information because you’ll get 27 different articles, all of them SEO optimized. You’re not getting hard data. [Perplexity] makes it so much quicker.”

The principal benefit of the tool is speed. Christiansen says that she and a colleague tested the tool’s ability to surface information by setting up a sprint – one using ‘traditional’ data tools and the other with Perplexity, both searching for a specific data point on the web that would ordinarily be difficult to find because of SEO noise. The AI won.

“We were each looking for a specific set of information we knew existed and how we needed to find it – but it was something that wasn’t easily worded from a human perspective.” Cubaka’s creative and strategy teams are already using the tool to beef up their research and insights-gathering efforts.

Christiansen says she’s found results faster still by using Boolean script – and by using the app’s filtering tool to deliberately target a specific website (or exclude others).

Perplexity is developed by Perplexity AI, a company based in San Francisco. Its backers include Meta’s former chief scientist, Yann LeCun.

The service is available both in the browser and in an iOS app. There’s a free version and a $20-a-month one, Perplexity Pro, which enables unlimited file uploads. Its interface is similar to that of ChatGPT: you type in a prompt, the app generates one response after a few seconds and follow-up questions are listed as additional queries in a dialogue – though answers are often returned with imagery pulled from the web and, crucially, links to sources. The latter feature means it’s easy to perform fact-checks, which are still necessary: Perplexity isn’t immune from mistakes (though Christiansen says she’s seen far fewer than when using ChatGPT) and Cubaka has been fact-checking every search as a matter of course.

“I don’t think anyone’s at the stage with any of these tools where you can have that inherent trust without going and doing some kind of due diligence on your own.

“I always fact-check. But clicking through, I haven’t found any inconsistencies in the data that is provided in an answer versus the source that’s been linked. Sometimes you get sources that are a bit outdated. The other limitation is that, sometimes, an initial prompt will yield quite generalized information. So you have to do some extra digging.”

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Another feature, the ability to upload a document and have it digitally scanned (a PDF, for example), is “incredibly useful and time-saving,” says Christiansen. But it’s not advisable to use this with any client documents, which naturally limits how useful it can be.

“You don’t want to input any confidential information. We’ve said on our end if someone can’t find it publicly, don’t upload it. Err on the side of caution. And that’s something we could probably get a lot more of out of [Perplexity] with and save a lot more time if it was a bit more secure.”

Cubaka’s not the only company to take that stance. Most agencies using gen AI tools have said they won’t share client documents with tools such as Perplexity or ChatGPT out of fear they’d be breaching confidentiality agreements (ChatGPT’s developer OpenAI, for example, technically owns any information submitted to the app).

The Pro version carries some additional security features, but it’s not yet enough to allay internal fears, says Christiansen: “Research [using AI] comes with a certain level of risk and brand safety concern… that’s something we’re really hot on at the moment.”

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