Breaking News

Google Sheets' formula suggestions are like autofill for math

Google Sheets' formula suggestions are like autofill for math

Google has announced that Google Sheets is gaining the ability to intelligently suggest formulas and functions for your spreadsheet based on the data you're analyzing. For example, typing "=" in a cell at the bottom of a list of numbers will pop up a box that lets you automatically add numbers together, find their average, and more.

From my admittedly simple tests, it appears to be a pretty smart system. For example, with one column of data, it suggests that I look at the sum or average of the numbers. When I selected Sum and moved to the next cell, it suggested finding the average only for numbers in that range, not including the sum I just calculated. It's a simple matter to keep track of what is data and what is analysis, but it's easy to imagine a version of it that gets bogged down.

Google says that to make these suggestions, it trained machine learning models using anonymous data from certain spreadsheets. The model doesn't just take into account how often certain formulas are used, though—it also looks at the sheet's context.

For example, as you can see in the GIF above, I had a row labeled as "Total" and the system only suggested the sum formula. When I removed the "total" label, it suggested both the sum and the average. Google told The Verge that it can also identify the headers and see how the data is grouped to get an idea of ​​what to suggest.

Spreadsheet programs have long tried to make the lives of their users easier with autocomplete features. For example, both Sheets and Excel have a sort of series continuation feature, where it will try to figure out what you're doing in a selected range and then continue. For example, if I have a list that goes 2, 4, 6, I can tell Sheets to continue with it, and it auto-populates the next cell with 8, 10, 12, etc. does. While these existing systems are certainly time savers, calling them "intelligent" would be a stretch - you don't have to use them before you misinterpret something.

While Google's intelligent functions and formula suggestions aren't as impressive as, say, Github's Copilot tool, which autocompletes code, they both represent as much of the technology's potential as we might have realized. It takes longer than that. Is it particularly difficult to say, type "SUM", then select the range you want? No. Is it great that the program does exactly what it can do for me, as it can do with email replies and Python tasks that require me to use my human brain? Absolutely.

According to Google's blog, the feature rolled out Wednesday in Workspace, G Suite and personal Google accounts and will take up to 15 days to be visible to all. If you are not fond of pop-ups, then this feature can also be turned off. Google also says that the rollout will "give users visibility into whether pre-compiled formulas require further verification."

No comments