If you’ve ever wanted to have a deeper conversation with the printed page – or scan a library of literature for answers to your many questions – Google’s Talk to Books tool is a fun little way to do just that. It isn’t a Google search for books, but it does offer more conversational answers for your questions than a traditional search.
For example, if you pull up Talk to Books and try out any of its many pre-generated queries, such as “Who are the smartest characters in Harry Potter”, you won’t get a list of books that you could use to find an answer to your question. Instead, you’ll get the actual passages from books that are most likely to provide a natural response to your question.
Screenshot: David Murphy
In this case, here’s Google’s top response for its Harry Potter query: “It is Lupin who acknowledges Hermione’s intelligence during the scene in the Shrieking Shack in which both Lupin’s and Sirius Black’s identities come fully to light: ‘You’re the cleverest witch of your age I have ever met.'”
While that answer doesn’t necessarily give you a roundup of the “smartest” characters, you can piece together a decent list from the rest of Google’s (bolded) answers:
- “Harry is recognised as a magical prodigy”
- “Among the adults, Professor McGonagall seems to mirror Hermione as a smart female of clearly secondary status.”
- “Dumbledore is still looked upon as the ‘all-knowing’ leader, and many times Professor McGonagall still asks Dumbledore for validation, even though she is still highly intelligent and shows it often throughout the novels.”
- “We see bravery in Hagrid and Hermione’s kindness, and in Hermione’s willingness to stand up for herself and for others.”
Aside from that last one, which appears a bit random, the answers seem to fit the general notion that Harry and Dumbledore are pretty clever. That, and the factual statement that you should never mess with Maggie Smith.
As Google explains:
Talk to Books is more of a creative tool than a way to find specific answers. In this experiment, we don’t take into account whether the book is authoritative or on-topic. The model just looks at how well each sentence pairs up with your query. Sometimes it finds responses that miss the mark or are taken completely out of context.
If you decide to give Google’s Talk to Books a try, remember that the service is designed around semantic analysis, so you shouldn’t treat it like a common Google search. Don’t enter keywords you want more information about, and don’t try to use fancy search operators such as “-Voldemort” to remove all mentions of the not-to-be-named guy.
Instead, phrase your questions conversationally, as if you were about to ask a friend why they thought Frodo didn’t throw the ring into Mount Doom. You wouldn’t just tell a friend “Frodo mount doom ring“, right?