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AI helps Google Sheets grok your plain-English commands

Number-crunching is getting easier as machine-learning technology spreads to a new corner of computing.

Google's machine learning means artificial intelligence tools can understand plain-English commands in Google Sheets. 

If you're a spreadsheet guru, you probably are perfectly happy writing a command like =AVERAGE(Sheet1!C2:C933). For the rest of us, an infusion of artificial intelligence in Google Sheets means you'll just be able to ask "What are the average sales for Sunday?"

An AI update Google announced Thursday means the spreadsheet app takes its best shot at understanding commands in plain language. Other examples: "What is the distribution of products sold?", "Histogram of 2017 customer ratings," and "bar chart for ice cream sales."

Accountants, scientists, financial analysts and other professionals use spreadsheets to process numeric data, but they can be a daunting tool for others who don't spend a lot of time in calculations. But the history of computing over and over shows how making technology more accessible to ordinary folks has transformed industries and our lives. AI is a top tool today in making computers act like humans so humans don't have to act like computers.

Google has aggressively adopted machine learning technology, which trains a brain-like "neural network" of computers to recognize patterns. The technology is as widely adaptable as human intelligence: Google uses it for everything from translating languages and taking good photos to catching dangerous phishing attacks in your email and vanquishing the top players of the ancient game of Go.

An "update" button in G Suite's Google Docs and Google Slides apps makes it easier to refresh data copied in from Google Sheets spreadsheets.

An "update" button in G Suite's Google Docs and Google Slides apps makes it easier to refresh data copied in from Google Sheets spreadsheets.


Other new improvements also are coming to Google Sheets, a cornerstone tool in the G Suite of productivity apps along with Google Docs for word processing and Google Slides for presentations. Among the changes:

  • A new interface for creating charts out of spreadsheet data. There are new chart types, too, including 3D options.
  • The ability to easily synchronize data from Google Sheets that's copied and pasted into Google Docs or Google Slides documents.
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts, handy if you want to get Google Sheets to behave more like Microsoft Excel.
  • More control over printing options like margins and zoom scale.

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