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A Glimpse Into Google's Brain, Hidden In A Spreadsheet App

Give it two examples, and Google's spreadsheet can make a list of almost anything. A strange peek at how Google — and by proxy, the internet — sees the world.

Posted on March 6, 2013, at 6:41 p.m. ET

Yesterday TechCrunch reported that if you make a spreadsheet in Google Drive (Google Docs, formerly), enter and highlight the names of two beers, and pull down on the corner of the spreadsheet cell while holding Option or Control, the app will automatically fill the following cells with the names of other beers. The information is pulled, seemingly, from nowhere.

"Someone at Google really likes beer," the post said, implying that the categories were created by Google employees. Turns out, the lists are pulled from Google's search database using an algorithm that creates sets, or categories, of common words and names. It's essentially Google-powered word association — not a window into the world of Google engineers, but into the internet's collective view of how things are related to one another.

It doesn't work just for beer, car brands, colors, states, and websites, as reported, but just about any category you can think of. The feature was an outgrowth of a discontinued Google Labs project called Google Sets, so it's no longer pulling real-time information.

There are useful applications — it's easy to imagine using the list of states, for example, in creating a survey. "It is also one of those things we do things at Google that's whimsical and just for fun," says a Google spokesperson. "It is a snapshot of words and concepts that are connected to each other on the web." And, in a small but real way, a peek into the giant data-logged brain of the most powerful search engine in the world.

Strains of marijuana:

Drugs, from heroin to menthols:

"The Simpsons" characters:

Star Wars characters:

Canada is now officially the 58th state:

Extreme bucket list:

There are almost 100 different names for San Francisco neighborhoods:

B-list celebrities (sorry, Emma Watson!):

A-list celebrities (plus Zac Efron, Ashton Kutcher, and Josh Holloway?):

Top religions, including Zoroastrian:



Types of candy:

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.