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How to Use AI to Ask the Literary Universe for Answers

Artificial intelligence is being explored for use in every sector, for every purpose you can imagine. Today’s tool leverages the information in Google Books to allow a user to pose a question and see a list of “answers” in related quotes from books.

Google Talk to Books is an experimental tool designed to respond to questions asked using natural language, as opposed to using keywords. In other words, you can type a question in sentence form (Why do dogs bark?) and get better results than using a sentence fragment (Why dogs bark).

I feel obligated to issue a warning that this is the kind of tool that you can lose a whole afternoon (or more) to. Asking the same question in different ways will get different results, and those results often lead to engaging book passages. Next thing you know, your “to-be-read” pile is out of control.

That said, let’s try some sample searches.

Simple Search Interface

In true Google fashion, the page features a search box that prompts the user to “say something to books.” I started with a basic question with a scientific answer – “Why is the sky blue?”

Screenshot of search results including passages from books in all categories.

This brought up a list of five passages, with the option to load more. Each entry includes a citation and is clickable. You can follow the link to read more.


For my next question, I went for something more informal. It turns out this had scientific responses, too.

Question posed: Why are cats so weird? Search results include their keen senses and other attributes that differ from other animals.

To see what sort of non-factual answers I might get, I narrowed the results to fiction using the filters in the upper right.

Filter books by category list includes: arts, current events, fiction, history, literary criticism, and more.

The new results:

Same search with results filtered to fiction. Includes statements that cats are strange and that beings seemed wrong because they were descended from felines.

These results looked more like places I might find similar observations but in more imaginative settings.


Next, I tried rewording my question, which led to very different results.

Screenshot of question "are cats possessed?" with results about their relation to demons and how they can attack seemingly without warning.

These results were a little more interesting, for sure.

Give it a try and let us know how it went in the comments!

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