Don’t worry, we aren’t going to be attacked by lucid, malicious robots anytime in the near future (hopefully). We aren’t going to be controlled and pushed to extinction by mechanical sentient beings controlled by a central hub called “SkyNet”. However, we are going to have a big part of our day controlled by artifical intelligence, at least now that Google has released “RankBrain”, the machine learning engine that is now powering their search results.
What is AI and Machine Learning?
Machine learning is what it’s name suggests, a machine (in this case computer software) that takes in information and makes decisions. It can then use those decisions to further process decisions, as it incorporates it into it’s inner workings (similar to how humans learn things progressively, starting with the simple and building to the more complex).
Artificial Intelligence comes in a few different forms (supervised and unsupervised are the two largest groups), but let’s not get bogged down in the technical stuff here. The simple fact of the matter is that Google is now letting a machine decided what search results are good, based upon what they previously have determined to be good (like showing a kid a good drawing, and then showing them 10 other drawing and having them pick which one is also “good”).
To be fair, this isn’t a new development, it’s just a new development at Google. Their VP of Search, Amit Singhal, had always been philosophically opposed to machine learning, but recently that has changed and now they have implemented RankBrain. However, AI has been part of marketing campaigns and other technical endeavors for years. There is the famous story of Target predicting that a young woman was pregnant (and sending her coupons for baby clothes) before she had even told her father (and this drew an angry response from the father, which is why it made the news).
All Target was doing in that case was analyzing her spending habits and comparing it with those of other customers. They could easily see that other customers with her spending habits went ahead and purchased baby clothes in the proceeding months. They then strategically sent out coupons so as to encourage the customer to shop at Target. It’s smart.
So that’s what Google is doing, basically feeding into the system a bunch of search results that they know are good ones (whatever that means) and letting the “brain” decide which search results look just as good.
What Does This Mean For Webmasters
The short answer is: Not much. We asked around and got some feedback from Internet Marketers, one such response was from Steve who runs the best seo company in Bournemouth (I checked, it’s true) and he gave us a perfect quote:
“SEOs cannot know how RankBrain will turn out. By definition, Google doesn’t even know how it’s going to turn out, because a computer program is going off to play on it’s own. Only time will tell, but we should be prepared to react when that time comes”.
He’s right, there is no way to really know how the machine learning will start processing results pages. It could get very, very weird.