Google releases AI chatbot NotebookLM, nifty for knowledge workers

Anna Vod · December 14, 2023 · Short URL:

The tool is now free to all, with over a dozen new features since test launch

Writing has always been a lonely profession. It’s just you and that blank sheet of paper, be it digital or tangible. But I’m certain that every writer, at least once, wished for a pen partner who would provide that creative nudge when it’s so needed. Now, how about a “a personalized AI collaborator, grounded in the information you trust, designed to help you do your best thinking”?

Sure, there are lots of note-keeping tools out there. Evernote, Apple’s Notes, Microsoft’s OneNote, Bear Markdown Notes – lots to choose from to suit your purposes. Even Google had its Keep – but now it’s offering something better to the public. Its NotebookLM just opened up for anybody to use, and it promises no less than collaboration.

Google, owned by Alphabet Inc., initially released NotebookLM to limited users in July. Targeting creators, knowledge workers, students, and educators, it would become their go-to expert once they upload document sources. Building on that trial time, NotebookLM has evolved to add new capabilities, as Google said in a release blog on Friday. Now, it’s available to anyone with a Google account.

The new features, counting over a dozen, include adding independent notes, all notes saved on one noteboard, saving AI responses, focus the AI on a particular set of sources, sharing notebooks with peers, and PDF source uploads in addition to copied text and docs from Google Drive. Notebooks can analyze up to 20 documents at once, while sources can contain up to 200,000 words.

Some perks I found especially cool were getting AI’s feedback on your writing. Study guides based on the uploaded sources also seem like a handy tool. Some edtech startups have been offering those as well. And NotebookLM also suggests your next actions as you select a passage from a source or jot some things down – which sounds like just the nudge that’s often needed to keep your work rolling.

The end result – once you got all your notes down in one place, with all the citations saved and the key points pinned – "you can use NotebookLM to transform them into an outline, blog post, business plan, and more," as the website proclaims. Sounds quite nifty.

Until this point, I did not use NotebookLM to write this story. But I now turn to this new tool to tell me how it can help me organize content. NotebookLM told me it can automatically generate summaries to quickly get the main points, suggest follow-up questions to help me better understand the text, create outlines, and translate text to another language.

I asked it to translate the first paragraph of “War and Peace” by Tolstoy, which contains French and Russian language. And I’ll have to say that it did a better job than Google Translate, but it was far from what we’d expect from a literary translation. For one, it kept that horrendous word “appanages.” If you’re like me, who’s seeing this word for the first time, you’d need another source for clarity.

Meanwhile, NotebookLM suggested some questions for me to ask for the purposes of this article. One was “What limitations does NotebookLM have?” So, here I relay its answer to its own question: “It cannot analyze or browse web links, not even those provided by the user in their notes. It may sometimes give inaccurate responses, so users should confirm facts independently. The UI may appear rough in places, with mismatching fonts.”

Not to be too critical, Google noted that NotebookLM is an experimental product that is being improved. For those placing too much trust in the platform, Google added a disclaimer: “NotebookLM may still sometimes give inaccurate responses, so you may want to confirm any facts independently.” Google also noted that your personal data is not used to train NotebookLM.

Regardless of its downsides, NotebookLM certainly shows the potential that makes working with information faster for knowledge workers – research, education, and journalism being just a few spaces among many. And it’s a free tool, unlike some chatbots out there, so give a try.


Image: NotebookLM

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