Google’s ‘Talk to Books’ Search Engine Brings You Answers from over 100,000 Books

A quick Google search can bring you answers in a matter of moments. Need the recipe for a Shepard’s Pie? No problem. Want to know where the cheapest hotels are in Italy? Here’s a list. The internet has brought endless knowledge to our fingertips, and now a new search engine has been created which can help answer questions that don’t have a definitive answer.

During a TED talk yesterday. author and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil introduced a new search engine called ‘Talk to Books‘, a tool which scans over 100,000 volumes in Google Books and brings users insightful and interesting answers from relevant titles.

Questions can be as simple or as abstract as you like and always bring back a number of interesting and accurate responses. I decided to give the new search engine a go and came back with some very thoughtful answers.

Firstly, I asked “Do aliens exist?” I got many answers in return, including:

“Others, like cosmologist Frank Tipler (1981), are convinced that extraterrestrials do not exist because if they did they would be here by now. Given that there is nothing special about the timing of human evolution, it is fairly likely that if intelligent beings evolved elsewhere, at least half of them would ahead of us in biological evolution, which should put them far, far ahead of us scientifically and technologically, which means they would have found Earth by now.” – Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other … by Michael Shermer, Stephen Jay Gould.

Then I asked: “Why can’t I sleep?” and received an answer which read:

In cases of onset insomnia, a person will lie in bed for what seems to be a very long period but be unable to go to sleep. Stress and anxiety are frequent causes of this type of insomnia. Maintenance insomnia occurs when sleep is frequently interrupted or early waking occurs. From Discovering Psychology: The Science of Mind, Briefer Version by John Cacioppo, Laura Freberg

I decided it was time to throw the engine a real curve ball and so I asked the age old question: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” I was surprised to find even this conundrum was no match for Talk to Books.

“Just how much wood could a woodchuck chuck? I have no idea, but if the varmint had a Facebook account, we’d all know the answer.” from Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day by Dave Evans, Susan Bratton.

As Quartz Media reports, Talk to Books is by no means designed to replace your standard Google search, but instead offers a semantics based search with an advanced AI which can understand the nuances of human language. Results are designed to intrigue, inspire, and educate and it’s interesting how answers can be both humorous and profound.

“Semantic search is based on searching meaning, rather than on keywords or phrases” said Kurzweil on his blog. “Developed with machine learning, it uses ‘natural language understanding’ of words and phrases.” He added: “It’s good for exploring ideas, it’s fun just to play with it.”

Talk to Books is certainly a fascinating new tool and is a great way to get a variety of viewpoints on a topic that doesn’t boil down to just one answer. It’s perfect for research and can help bring new ideas and ways of thinking to users in a matter of seconds.

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David Walliams would “safeguard libraries” if he was in charge.

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