Google is making its “AI notebook for everyone” available to a select few and renaming it from Project Tailwind to NotebookLM. If you struggle to make sense of the pile of information in your Google Drive, a light coating of AI could be just the thing.
The project was announced at I/O in May as a way for students to organize the various lecture notes and other documents they accumulate during coursework.
Unlike a generic chatbot that draws on a vast corpus of largely unrelated information, NotebookLM restricts (or attempts to restrict) itself to analyzing and answering questions about the documents it is fed. It will still draw on its broader knowledge if you require it to, but the general idea is that its first resort is to the information it has most recently been exposed to.
If you’re taking a class on Lord Byron and ask it what the significance was of his dying in Greece rather than England, it will first consult your notes and any supporting documents, and report from those. But if you don’t happen to have written down the date and location of his death (April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece), it can still fetch that information from elsewhere. (At least, this is how I understand the system to work in a general sense.)
This “source-grounding,” Google says, “seems” to reduce the amount of outright invention of counterfactual information, but the company warns to fact-check everything the AI says against your own notes. One does wonder whether any time has been saved at this point, but if you are (like myself) the type of person who knows material well but occasionally struggles to surface it in the moment, it could be a net positive.
Google repeats that this is “an experimental product,” and as we noted at its announcement, the company shows little confidence that it knows what or who NotebookLM is actually for. College students, maybe, but I’d be nervous about using it at this stage if I were as student after Bard fell on its face taking its first steps. There are other options like this out there as other companies, like Notion, attempt to find a way to fit AI into their existing products.
“We’ll be talking to people and communities often to learn about what’s working well and where the gaps are, with the intent of making NotebookLM a truly useful product.” In other words, we think this is cool but have no idea what to do with it. There’s promise here, though, so let’s hope this doesn’t end up in the Google Graveyard like so many of its other “experiments.” Don’t get attached.