Marcus Amberton 30th October 2015

News emerged this week that Google was using a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain” to help sort through its search results. I’m a big fan of the Terminator films (1 and 2 anyway) so this announcement did catch my eye. Is Google’s use of artificial intelligence going to pave-way for nuclear war, time travel and killer cyborgs on the loose? Hopefully not, but here is what we know so far:

What is RankBrain?

It’s an artificial intelligence system developed by Google that helps process its search results using machine learning.

Machine learning is basically a form of AI, where computer programs are created that can teach themselves how to develop and change when exposed to different types of data (in this case, search queries).

How does it work?

Here’s where we refer back to Google’s senior research scientist…

RankBrain embeds vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities into a format that a computer can understand, then if RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, using this information it can ‘guess’ what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the results accordingly.

What purpose does it serve?

Basically, it’s used for handling ambiguous or unique questions that have never been submitted to Google before.

According to Google, brand new queries make up to 15% of all searches a day and as Search Engine Land pointed out, Google processes 3bn searches per day, which means that 450m per day are entirely unique in nature.

Clearly there is a need to use machine learning to cope with the sheer demand of its users. RankBrain is also showing signs of improving on Google’s own search engineers. Those behind the search software were asked to look at various pages and predict which pages would be ranked at the top of the Google results. The humans guessed correctly 70% of the time, RankBrain guessed correctly 80% of the time.

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