I’m all for AI and chatbots – I even designed one! -, but every time I hear ‘use artificial intelligence for book discovery’, I’m sceptical. I didn’t see anything worth looking at since Oyster was closed down, and when I heard that Google has launched Talk to Books, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’m a big fan of everything Google, but most of their new features get shut down within a few months. (Remember Google Buzz?) Anyway, I have tried Google’s free to use AI features a few months back (Google Vision and Natural Language Processing), and I was hoping that Google will soon use these tools to offer better discoverability to the books in their catalogue. Maybe even increase sales?
If you are not familiar with Google Books: it is Google’s enormous project, scanning books from all over the world and making the content searchable. The project has not always been everyone’s favourite, but they have recently overcome some copyright challenges, and are working continuously on making information freely available for everyone. It is not only public domain books and legal documents that form Google Books’ catalogue: they have access to the text of all books distributed through Google Play Books as well. Publishers and authors signing up to Google Play Books agree to their books being part of the Google Books project. It doesn’t mean that the whole book will be available on Google Books. It will, however, make the text searchable.
Why the long lead in?
Because it is exactly the gargantuan Google Books database that is used as a basis of the new project, Talk to Books. (The other new lab project is called Semantris, and it is clearly ruining the effectiveness of my workday. It is a word association game: try it, and you will no longer need Tetris. Hey, don’t blame me!)