The search engine’s new feature is being sold as a creative tool – but mainly it’s a collection of semi-coherent and accidentally profound sentences

I’m confuddled by Google’s new search feature. Talk to Books lets you ask whole questions, and pulls up a list of responses from 100,000 books in the Google Books database. In theory, this is incredible. We know the internet is a trash can of terrible people and misinformation – a kitten clutching a cat-print edition of Mein Kampf and aggressively selling you maxi dresses. But books! Books are portals to the greatest minds of recorded time. Why ask Jeeves when you can ask PG Wodehouse? Or Montaigne or Tolstoy or Woolf? They’re sure to know more than Reddit. And at times, the tool does seem strangely wise.

What’s the best way to live, I ask. “There is no one best way to live a life … There are penalties and compensations for being ‘good’ as well as for being ‘bad’,” I read. The advice comes from Robert K Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership: A Journey Into The Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Intriguing. I go a little more abstract. Who’s to blame, I wonder, and get an apt response from The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano: “To blame for what? His father asked, bewildered and slightly annoyed.” Touché. Will machines be kind to us? “We’ll probably never want to deal with machines that are too much like us,” says John McCarthy, from Formalising Common Sense.

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