Is Google’s New AI the Future of Employee Learning?


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

AI should not completely replace real-life mentors, but the Talk to Books program could help to supplement initiatives and help employees boost their critical thinking.

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Is Google’s New AI the Future of Employee Learning
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As technology evolves, there are more ways of teaching your employees the key skills they require. In turn, this will develop their abilities and improve their working behaviors. It’s vital that HR departments keep abreast of the changing landscape and harness advances in technology to benefit both their staff and the business as a whole.

A new tool from Google could be the answer

That is where a new tool developed by Google could be particularly useful. A new mentor released by the search engine giant could be the answer to what has been missing from the way you develop talent and make the most of its potential.

What may be surprising is that this new technology relies on real books as opposed to keyword matching. Talk to Books allows the user to ask a question and then provides a solution by finding passages in the books that contain the answer. This allows the knowledge in print books readily available and accessible in a digital world.

How does Talk to Books work?

It works through semantic analysis and machine learning, allowing it to review hundreds of thousands of books in just seconds. What this means in practice is that intelligent responses are provided to complex questions very quickly.

These are likely to be queries that include subordinate clauses and concepts that are more difficult to pin down through a standard Google search.

Are there any examples of it in action?

Sean Wise had a go with Talk to Books for He asked it “How can I get promoted at work?” and gained a number of responses. These included:

“If you work hard, well, and are reliable, you will get promoted.”
“If you're at a company with a career ladder, sitting down with your manager and asking her what areas you need to focus on to get promoted is usually a good idea if you are actively seeking a promotion."

The system also asked Wise a question of its own: “Do you know how your work fits together into the larger operations of your company?” This is a good way to further the learning curve of an individual and make them think for themselves. It’s not as simple as taking the information from Talk to Books, as the mentee must interpret it themselves to fit the context.

It wasn’t finished there either, just like any good tutor, the program recommended some further reading for the mentee. It suggested Wise take a look at The Manager's Path & HBR's Guide to Performance Management to get where he wants to be in his career.

How does this compare to traditional mentoring?

The chances are that a good mentor would have provided similar answers to their mentee, but that would have taken time out of their working day. Not only that, but it would have taken HR a reasonable amount of time to find the right person for the mentoring situation, as well as synchronizing everyone’s calendars to find a space that worked.

Some companies may not have the right staff in-house to provide such support either. There are many cases when new employees go beyond the skillset of those they replaced or that the job simply didn’t exist in the past, as the world of work is evolving so quickly.

Why mentoring is important

A good mentor will help guide their mentee in the right direction, offering them the value of their experience. As well as teaching them some of the lessons they have learned, they will help them to find the resources they need to further their understanding of the profession they are in. This is an area where Talk to Books excels.

Does Talk to Books have limitations?

While AI is not the answer to all of the learning challenges a company may face when aiming to develop its talent’s skillset, it certainly has the potential to be a game changer. A genuine connection developed over time between two people in face-to-face meetings is invaluable, but sometimes just not achievable.

Can businesses have the best of both worlds?

Using real-life mentors and Talk to Books in conjunction with each other could represent the optimum situation for developing employees’ critical thinking. The mentor could even split their time between two members of staff, while AI picks up where they left off, recommends texts and helps answers to be found to pressing questions.

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