June 21, 2024
Google's AI note taking app NotebookLM available to all U.S. users


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Google‘s entries into the generative AI space so far have yielded mixed results, but that isn’t stopping the search giant — owned by parent company Alphabet — from shipping new products, services and features.

Case in point, today Google announced that its experimental AI-driven online note-taking app, NotebookLM, initially made available to selected users through a waitlist in July, is now generally available to all adult users who opt into it in the U.S., for free.

Also: NotebookLM has been upgraded so that it is powered by Google’s new Gemini AI model, one of them, at least — “Gemini Pro,” the middle-tier and most advanced of the Gemini models released so far earlier this week.

A Gemini Ultra larger context and higher parameter count (connections between artificial neurons) is due out next year, while a Gemini Nano is a smaller parameter version requiring less computing power designed for smartphones running Google’s Android open source operating system.

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How NotebookLM works

NotebookLM, designed in partnership with author Steven Johnson, according to Wired, is designed to allow users to upload several documents from their computers or Google Drive cloud storage into a single digital note space and then converse with them through Google’s AI, asking it questions that it can answer by using the user-provided documents.

“When you upload documents to NotebookLM, it becomes an instant expert in the information you need for your projects, capable of answering questions based on the supplied sources,” is how Google Labs Editorial Director Steven Johnson and Product Manager Raiza Martin put it in an official Google blog post on the NotebookLM general availability announcement.

Thanks to a host of upgrades alongside the Gemini update, NotebookLM can now analyze and reference 20 documents at once and 200,000 words per document.

For example, a student studying for an exam could upload several readings to NotebookLM and then have a dialog with it, getting the AI to ask sample test questions. A scientific researcher working on a new study or paper could upload prior work or data and ask questions of the AI about it using Google’s chatbot-style interface.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that seems to be geared at enabling a broad swath of general-purpose users across industries and sectors to be able to do what many other companies are spending lots of money on: building a personalized gen AI assistant that can retrieve highly specific knowledge for the individual user, their specific workload, and/or their department/company.

Initial impressions and limitations

Unfortunately, there is one major limitation that seems like it will hamper NotebookLM’s usefulness for these purposes: it can’t analyze or browse web links, not even those provided by the user in their notes, for example, which seems like a major omission from a company whose biggest strength to date has been its crawling and indexing of the entire world wide web.

Instead, you have to manually save and upload PDFs of webpages or copy and paste the text into a Google Doc in your Google Drive for Notebook to be able to analyze and reference that information.

In our cursory anecdotal tests, it also did not always reference the full text of PDFs provided, omitting important information such as key names among the signatories of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, despite those names appearing in our source material. However, after multiple tries, we were able to get NotebookLM to answer correctly.

Screenshots of tests of Google NotebookLM. Credit: VentureBeat

The UI also appeared to be rough in places, with mismatching fonts, but that didn’t impact our usage of the product.

And, to be fair, Google does print at the bottom of the NotebookLM screen “NotebookLM may still sometimes give inaccurate responses, so you may want to confirm any facts independently.”

U.S. users with a free Google account can try NotebookLM for themselves now here.

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