In June, Google debuted Smart Fill, an AI-powered Google Sheets feature that automatically detects patterns, generates formulas, and autocompletes columns. Now, following a months-long beta, Smart Fill is today launching into general availability for all G Suite users.
Smart Fill comes after the launch of Smart Cleanup as Google looks to inject G Suite with more AI-powered functionality. Recently, the company added a tool that lets users ask natural language questions about data in spreadsheets, like “Which person has the top score?” and “What’s the sum of price by salesperson?” Google Meet earlier this year gained adaptive noise cancellation. And two years ago, Google rolled out Quick Access, a machine learning-powered product that suggests files relevant to documents users are editing, to Sheets, Docs, and Slides.
As G Suite product manager Ryan Weber explained in an interview with VentureBeat earlier this summer, Smart Fill relies on common patterns of data mappings (e.g., combining one column with another to derive an output column) and analyzes cells within a user’s spreadsheet to assist with data entry. For each document, it evaluates the relevance of formulas and knowledge from Google’s Knowledge Graph to a given column or sets of columns.
“The idea with Smart Fill is that you have a bunch of columns in your spreadsheet filled with names, for example, and you want to add one or more additional columns,” Weber said. “Smart Fill will look at what you’re trying to do and suggest extracting the first name and filling down the rest of the values. If you accept its suggestion, Smart Fill will auto-generate a formula for you to populate all the way down the new column.”
Akin to Smart Compose, Google’s feature that automatically tries to finish sentences in Gmail, Smart Fill is designed to recognize text transformations and perform tasks like subtracting out portions of addresses and grabbing first and last names. Drawing both on G Suite people directories and the Knowledge Graph, Google’s knowledge base spanning over a billion facts, Smart Fill can understand things like state and country capitals and pop in contacts’ addresses and phone numbers.
Smart Fill isn’t the only feature of its kind — Microsoft Excel, too, can automatically create new columns based on its understanding of what spreadsheets are about. But Weber says that the AI models underpinning Smart Fill, which were trained on large data sets from Sheets containing anonymized and aggregated information, will continue to improve over time as people interact with Smart Fill and either accept or reject changes. Moreover, these models will only trigger when they reach a certain confidence threshold, mostly to prevent unwelcome or erroneous recommendations from popping up in users’ views.
“We [as a team] evaluate whether we’re confident that we’re promoting discoverability in Sheets in a useful way, so that we’re actually speeding up our users — making them faster and more efficient,” Weber said. “What we don’t want to do is to have a bunch of suggestions constantly getting in their way … That’s not a great outcome.”