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Within the near future, a deep ML system will clearly outperform Google’s 20-year accumulation of relevance algorithms for web search.
Here, I’m just talking about relevance; that is, determining whether a document and query are talking about the same thing. There is a lot more to web ranking for which ML seems much less appropriate. But I think basic relevance is the major task in web ranking and probably “objective” enough to go after pretty effectively with ML.
None of us can see the future, but my bet is that this is nearly certain to be true within 5 years and could be true even within 6 months. One problem after another that is similar in flavor to web ranking has fallen, and there is little reason to think that web ranking is somehow exceptional. Indeed, this holiday thought stems from recent advances in web answers, where deep ML (in the form of BERT) abruptly subsumed essentially all preceding work.