Google’s “Talk To Books” might have just changed everything

Last Friday, Google unveiled “Talk To Books,” a new tool which uses semantic search – search based on meaning, rather than mere keywords, and powered by the same Google conversational AI used to implement ‘smart’ email replies – to provide an entirely new way to explore books.

What happens when, for the first time in human history, books can be searched at the sentence level, rather than at the author or topic level?

Using this tool, a user can input a statement or a question, and Talk To Books searches over 100,000 books for sentences which best provide a response. No dependence on keyword matching is involved.

This is no quirky novelty Google released that will largely go unnoticed – this is a profound, almost shocking development that will have wide-ranging implications for all publishers, starting from day one:

1) BOOK DISCOVERABILITY JUST BECAME CONVERSATIONAL

How do we discover a book? A friend tells us about it. A news source tells us about it. A family member tells us about it, etc. Now we can add a new one: a conversational AI tells us about it. Discoverability is the problem this tool really helps to address.

Google’s developer notes explain there is a “popularity measure” implemented which provides a boost to books produced by “professional” publishing houses, but the tool itself is intentionally left unfiltered so as to demonstrate its raw power.

2) VOICE-FIRST TECHNOLOGY IS THE DELIVERY SYSTEM

When people ask Google what books they should read next, they will absolutely not be doing so with a mobile device with a touchscreen, and they certainly won’t be using a QWERTY keyboard on a desktop. Rather, they’ll be using their own voice, and will speak to a computer.

Expect to see Talk To Books rapidly integrated into Google Assistant and made available via Google Home devices, enabling this web tool’s semantic search capability to inform conversational search results delivered via voice.

3) WHAT BECOMES OF BRICK-AND-MORTAR BOOKSELLERS?

Bookstores would have to adapt, yet again, and provide something else, because I’m not buying books from them…I’m buying them from the AI that knows my context, that knows the publishing universe, and that can speak to me fluently being armed with both.

4) THIS DEVELOPMENT INSTANTLY AFFECTS ALL OTHER FORMS OF MEDIA

Many individuals and organizations thrive on selling books, while making other types of content, such as podcasts or videos, free in order to cultivate audiences that can then receive marketing to buy said books.

If an AI is telling me what books I need to buy next, that same AI needs to know where to find other content from either that author, that publisher, or similar authors and publishers. So, in other words, you have to now make sure your podcasts are available through Google Play Music, your audiobooks are available in Google’s ecosystem, and your videos are available and well-searchable in YouTube, if you aspire to sell many books.

5) GOOGLE HIT A HOME RUN BY MAKING ‘TALK TO BOOKS’ UNDERLYING CODE OPEN-SOURCE

Countless applications can be built using this technology in different contexts, from larger publishers applying this to their own inventories of books to glean various insights, to members of the media using this technology to search for subject matter experts semantically, to schools that could use this technology to expand or update curricula, and on, and on, and on. It will be exciting to see what gets built on top of this.

Bradley Metrock, CEO Score Publishing  (abridged)

The full unabridged version of this blog post first appeared on the Digital Book World site. Bradley Metrock produced the iBooks Author Conference from 2015 through 2017, before Score Publishing acquired Digital Book World, and has authored many articles on the state of the publishing industry and recent trends. 

Further reading:

Google: Google Talk to Books

lifehacker: Use Google to ‘talk’ to books

The Verge: Google’s latest AI experiments let you talk to books and test word association skills