Category Archives: Official Google Blog

Insights from Googlers into our topics, technology, and the Google culture

Using AI to give people who are blind the “full picture”

Everything that makes up the web—text, images,video and audio—can be easily discovered. Many people who are blind or have low vision rely on screen readers to make the content of web pages accessible through spoken feedback or braille. 

For images and graphics, screen readers rely on descriptions created by developers and web authors, which are usually referred to as “alt text” or “alt attributes” in the code. However, there are millions of online images without any description, leading screen readers to say “image,” “unlabeled graphic,” or a lengthy, unhelpful reading of the image’s file name. When a page contains images without descriptions, people who are blind may not get all of the information conveyed, or even worse, it may make the site totally unusable for them. To improve that experience, we’ve built an automatic image description feature called Get Image Descriptions from Google. When a screen reader encounters an image or graphic without a description, Chrome will create one. 

Image descriptions automatically generated by a computer aren't as good as those written by a human who can include additional context, but they can be accurate and helpful. An image description might help a blind person read a restaurant menu, or better understand what their friends are posting on social media.

If someone using a screen reader chooses to opt in through Settings, an unlabeled image on Chrome is sent securely to a Google server running machine learning software. The technology aggregates data from multiple machine-learning models. Some models look for text in the image, including signs, labels, and handwritten words. Other models look for objects they've been trained to recognize—like a pencil, a tree, a person wearing a business suit, or a helicopter. The most sophisticated model can describe the main idea of an image using a complete sentence.

The description is evaluated for accuracy and valuable information: Does the annotation describe the image well? Is the description useful? Based on whether the annotation meets that criteria, the machine learning model determines what should be shown to the person, if anything. We’ll only provide a description if we have reasonable confidence it's correct. If any of our models indicate the results may be inaccurate or misleading, we err on the side of giving a simpler answer, or nothing at all. 

Here are a couple of examples of the actual descriptions generated by Chrome when used with a screen reader.

Pineapples, bananas and coconuts

Machine-generated description for this image: "Appears to be: Fruits and vegetables at the market."

Man playing guitar on gray sofa

Machine-generated description for this image: "Appears to be: Person playing guitar on the sofa." 

Over the past few months of testing, we’ve created more than 10 million descriptions with hundreds of thousands being added every day. The feature is available in English, but we plan to add more languages soon. Image descriptions in Chrome are not meant to replace diligent and responsible web authoring; we always encourage developers and web authors to follow best practices and provide image descriptions on their sites. But we hope that this feature is a step toward making the web more accessible to everyone. 

How Google made me proud to be out at work

Until I started working at Google in 2014, I had never been out at work.  

Now, less than five years later, everything is different: I’m an active volunteer leader in Google’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group—a Googler-run, company-supported organization that works to provide an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, and partners closely with our Trans Employee Resource Group, which represents our transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary colleagues. As part of my role, I’ve had the chance to engage LGBTQ+ Googlers across our global offices, speak publicly about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and have even been able to share my perspectives and experiences directly with Google leadership. 

At this point, I can barely remember what it felt like to not be a visible, openly LGBTQ+ person at work. So it’s hard to imagine that before joining Google, I felt I couldn’t come out at the office at all. 

As we celebrate National Coming Out Day and reflect on all of the progress we’ve made as a community, I am determined to remember this simple but crucial reality: Openness matters. Community matters. Being able to be out at work matters. 

LGBTQ+ Pride sign at Google

Googlers create signs supporting the LGBTQ+ community for the 2017 New York City Pride March.

Prior to joining Google, I’d spent time in a variety of industries, always under the careful, polite policy of evasion when it came to questions about my personal life. Perhaps I didn’t need to be so secretive. I worked with wonderful, kind people, and though there were no explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ issues from my workplace, I’m sure most of my colleagues and managers wouldn’t have taken issue with my identity. 

Still, for many LGBTQ+ folks, the fear of prejudice can nag at you, and cause you to hesitate even around the most well-meaning of coworkers. Some assume that with the ushering in of marriage equality here in the U.S., other kinds of inequality have disappeared and the movement is complete. But as many LGBTQ+-identifying people will tell you, critical challenges still remain, and it takes a conscious and dedicated effort to counteract their effects. 

Growing up in New Mexico, I got an early introduction to some of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people still so often face: harassment, discrimination, violence. The understanding that being LGBTQ+ was unsafe was imprinted on me almost immediately, and that fear left a lasting mark.  

In each new city, from college to a job to graduate school to another job, I was reminded (often in not-so-subtle ways) that no matter what might change in the law or in popular culture, I should always be wary, always be careful.  

So I never took the chance.  

In so many important ways, restraining from bringing my full self to work hurt my ability to be a good employee. Constantly worrying about slipping up and revealing that I had a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend prevented me from feeling fully integrated. It became an obstacle to forming the kinds of professional relationships that help company culture feel cohesive and supportive.  

Now, I realize how much I was missing.  Today, I’m part of a workplace with visible LGBTQ+ leaders, explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ cultural moments and celebrations and broad encouragement to use what makes me different to create an environment of inclusion for my fellow Googlers. This journey has made me realize how much all workplaces can benefit from supporting their employees’ differences, just as much as they celebrate their collective unity.  

I’m proud. I hope you are, too. 

TerraTalk is changing how Japan’s students learn English

With increasing classroom sizes, more paperwork than ever and new mandates from the ministry of education, Japanese teachers face an uphill battle in their mission to teach their students. 

Yoshiyuki Kakihara wanted to use technology to figure out a solution, with an emphasis on English language education. He created TerraTalk, an AI-powered app that allows students to have audio conversations. TerraTalk’s artificial intelligence can hear and process what the students say and give feedback, removing this burden from teachers, and reinvigorating the classroom by creating an atmosphere filled with conversation and English learning games. TerraTalk was recently part of Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator, a program that provides mentorship and support to early-stage startups.

With nine acceleration programs and 341 startup alumni, we at Launchpadhave seen firsthand how  entrepreneurs around the world are using technology and startup innovation to solve the world’s biggest problems. In the third installment of our series, “Ideas to Reality,” we talked to Yoshiyuki about why he started TerraTalk, and where he hopes it will be in the next few years. 

TerraTalk app

A look at the TerraTalk English learning app.

When did you realize you wanted to make an impact on the education field? 

I grew up on the outskirts of Tokyo as a science-savvy kid and became super interested in foreign culture. I ended up leaving my high school to study in the United Kingdom. I did well academically back home, so it was quite a shock how my English fell short of being comprehensible at all abroad. It turns out that I wasn’t alone; in Japan, very few people reach conversational level at the end of secondary or university curriculum.

I feel that this is the result of an outdated methodology where too much emphasis is placed on explaining the grammar and little to no attention on putting the language into use. To make matters worse,  80 percent of teachers in Japan are putting 100 hours of overtime per month. They don’t have time to investigate, experiment with and transform the way they teach. When I learned this, I realized that I could help by creating a new technology to ease the burden on teachers, and make learning English more engaging for students.  

Who are your customers? How is your company positively affecting them?  

We do business directly with education institutions and local education councils. With our TerraTalk app, students can engage in role-playing style conversation lessons with their mobile devices. This enables teachers to ensure their students get enough speaking time, which is difficult to achieve with conventional classroom methodologies.

We are seeing students teach each other on how to tackle the exercises, sometimes creating their own competition out of it. In some ways, the technology we are bringing is humanizing classrooms, as it frees teachers from the standard lecture format.

How did you use Google products to make TerraTalk? 

BigQuery has helped us crunch massive user data to discover how people are using our app. Google Analytics is our go-to tool for marketing and search engine analysis. We use the TensorFlow family of machine learning tools and other numerous open source projects maintained by Google. We also use G Suite as a primary business tool, because of its reliability, security and ease of use.

Why did you choose to participate in Google Launchpad?

Google is a leading company in machine learning and cloud technology applications, which we heavily rely on. The prospect of receiving support in these areas was extremely appealing, especially when you are running a startup and saving time is everything.

What was the most memorable moment from Launchpad? 

We attended Launchpad Tokyo, which had seven startups in total. In a session called Founders Circle, founders from the startups got together and shared their biggest failures to date in a fireside-chat style. It was the moment where we became a true community, and many of us are still in touch after the program.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs? 

Don’t quit. Find a business or market where you have a natural advantage over other people. Whether your competition is other startups or established companies, it is the people you work with who make the difference.

Google Ad Grants help a U.K. nonprofit save lives

Editor’s note: Today is World Mental Health Day, a day run by the World Health Organization with the aim of breaking down the stigma of mental health and draw attention to resources and organizations available to help people cope. One of those organizations is Samaritans, which is a recipient of Google Ad Grants

Every six seconds, someone contacts Samaritans in need of support. And for the more than half a million people we reach each year, our more than 20,000 volunteers are here.

Founded in 1953, Samaritans is a U.K.-based organization dedicated to making sure fewer people die by suicide. We provide more than 20,000 volunteers over the phone, by email and face to face. My team manages the digital side, including search, social media, video and email outreach to raise awareness and connect with people who need our services. 

For over 13 years, my team has been a recipient of Google Ad Grants, which provides eligible nonprofits with free Search ads to connect people to causes. We use Ad Grants uniquely to help two types of people: Those struggling to cope with mental health issues, and those trying to help loved ones who are struggling.

People struggling to cope often turn to Google for several reasons: to better understand their symptoms, to find resources or—at worst—with the intent of harming themselves. For some searches with intent to self-harm, Google has a feature that surfaces our help line at the top of results to provide people with resources in their time of need. 

But beyond that, there’s more we can do with ads. Our Ad Grants ads ensure that the many different ways we provide help is front and center for people in need of support. For example, when someone comes to Google struggling to cope themselves, our ads proactively offer resources to get them help and shift the focus toward ways to get better.

The Google Ad Grants program helps us save lives.

Uniquely, Search ads from the Ad Grant also allow us to provide resources to people who want to help others. We run ads targeting people who are looking for information on how to start difficult conversations or how to support friends and family who might need it.

Overall, Google Ad Grants has been a critical tool in supporting our organization’s mission and connecting people to life-saving mental health resources in real time. Our free Search ads have incredible reach and help us drive measurable results in the real world, such as raising awareness of our helpline, driving donations and increasing volunteer signups. All of these results from Ad Grants enable us to serve more people in need.

Last year, our Ad Grants ads were seen 2.6 million times. More than 320,000 people, seeking either support services or expressing interest in volunteering, clicked on our ads. A key part of our success is using free Google tracking tools (such as Analytics and Conversion Tracking) to measure the impact of our ads, learn what support offerings are most desired and see firsthand in our reports how many lives we are touching. Samaritans relies on Google to help us reach hundreds of people a day who are in need and might not otherwise know our services exist. The Google Ad Grants program helps us save lives.

Five tips to unwind with Android TV

It’s getting chilly outside (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and now’s the perfect time to fire up this season’s premieres, scary Halloween flicks and classic holiday movies. Ahead of all that fall TV and movie-watching, we worked with YouGov to survey people on how they’re viewing TV at home. 


Between cable and satellite TV, streaming media and services, and casting and voice assistance, watching TV looks different now than it did a few years ago. And with more advanced TVs, many are looking to simplify their TV experience.


To make your time in front of the TV enjoyable, Android TV devices come with the Google Assistant, the Google Play Store and Chromecast built in for easy access to entertainment. Here are a few things we heard about TV-watching habits, and five tips to help unwind with Android TV:


Find something to watch that works for the whole family

Most people watch their shows and movies alongside an average of two other people. Featuring over 500,000 movies and shows, Android TV always has the perfect entertainment for your crew to cozy up to when it’s cold outside. All your favorite apps including YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are available on the big screen. Plus, the Google Play Store on Android TV has access to over 5,000 more apps and games to prevent any wrestling over the remote. 


Spend less time searching, and more time enjoying

With all the endless entertainment that is available, viewers are spending an average of 11 minutes trying to find something to watch. It’s no wonder a third of participants were frustrated by the amount of time they spend searching. With the Google Assistant built into Android TV devices, you can quickly search for shows and movies across your apps, whether it’s “Find scary TV shows” or “Show me popular holiday movies.” 62 percent of people found it quicker to use their voice to find what they want to watch.


Tailor the TV to your taste and stay on top of all your shows

Survey participants reported having two streaming apps on average, and 41 percent showed a desire to play music and 35 percent expressed interest in getting their news on the big screen too. To keep it all organized in one place and never miss a new episode, Android TV lets you easily customize your home screen to display your apps, shows and movies for quick access to your favorites.


Flex your smart home superpowers

79 percent of survey participants want to connect their smart home with their TV so they could control their home from the big screen. Coming soon, you’ll be able to set up a routine with the Google Assistant. Just say “showtime,” to dim the lights, draw the curtains and start a thriller all from the comfort of your couch. And if trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell, you can say “show me the front door camera” to pull up your Nest app on the TV and check for any tricksters.


Prep for holiday guests without leaving the sofa

For many, TV time means being entertained while also being productive. Participants reported doing an average of four activities while in front of the TV. Of those activities, 68 percent involve eating and drinking and 39 percent involve completing chores. Next time it’s your turn to host guests, ask for a little help from the big screen with the Google Assistant and run the robot vacuum, add apple pie to the shopping list or start the pressure cooker all with just your voice. 


TV should be simple and stress-free, and Android TV is always working to bring a smarter way to watch to your big screen. From smart TVs like the Sony A9G Series, Hisense H8F Series and Philips 24” Kitchen Android TV to new ways to watch like the JBL Link Bar and Xiaomi Mi Laser Projector, Android TV is available on the device that fits best in your home.

Get your business holiday-ready with help from Google

The holidays may feel far away, but businesses are already preparing for the shoppers that will show up in the next couple months. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re ready for the holiday rush:  


Stand out to local shoppers 

If you’re a local business, keep your Business Profile on Google updated using Google My Business


Show up when people are searching for what you have to offer  

Most people will start their holiday shopping by searching, and Google Ads will help your product or business show up. To take advantage of a specific holiday, create a seasonal campaign and consider adjusting your budgets to match search growth for holiday peaks so your ads don’t go dark mid-season. After the holidays, review your past account performance to improve future campaigns.  


Get a free personalized plan to help you reach your business goals 

Answer a few questions about your business and the Google for Small Business site will create a personalized plan with Google tools to help you stand out online, reach more customers and work more efficiently during the holidays and throughout the year. 


Dive deeper into your holiday marketing plan 

If you want to learn more about how to spruce up your holiday marketing plan, watch this free holiday livestream


Hey Google, talk like Issa

Here's a trivia question for you. Which actress is also a writer and producer, started a web series on YouTube, translated common insecurities into a hit show, gives a great pep talk and makes a cameo as a voice on the Google Assistant? It's Issa Rae! 


Starting today, Issa Rae’s voice is available as a cameo on the Google Assistant, in English for a limited time in the U.S. To switch to Issa’s voice, simply say “Hey Google, talk like Issa," or go to your “Assistant voice” in Assistant Settings. You’ll then hear Issa’s voice when you ask the Assistant for things like the weather forecast or for answers to questions like, “When is the first day of winter?” You’ll also hear Issa’s voice when you’re in the mood for a joke or when you’re seeking motivation. Try asking your Assistant, “Hey Google…” 

  • “Do I need an umbrella today?”

  • “Tell me a secret.”

  • “What do you think of me?”

  • “Give me a quote from Issa Rae.”

  • “Sing a song.”

  • “Tell me a joke.”

  • Or ask, “Mirror talk” or “How do I look?” for confidence-boosting affirmations.

#TalkLikeIssa

You can even hear a few surprises—like Issa’s take when you ask, “Hey Google, do you love Daniel or Lawrence more?” or “Hey Google, tell me something awkward.” Responses to all other questions will continue to be in one of the original Assistant voices. And if you want yet another surprise, keep an eye out on the @Google Instagram channel today for a few exclusive sneak peeks into Issa’s life on set!


This is the Google Assistant’s second celebrity voice, following the melodic vocals of John Legend, made possible by the state-of-the-art speech synthesis model, WaveNet. You can get Issa’s cameo voice on any device that has the Google Assistant, including Google Home smart speakers and all Smart Displays—including the new Nest Hub Max—and on mobile for Android and iOS

Why Mahoning Matters is putting local readers first

Today marks the launch of Mahoning Matters, The Compass Experiment’s first digital-only news outlet, which will serve readers in Youngstown, Ohio and the surrounding Mahoning Valley. We chose our name because it reflects what we believe: The people and happenings of the Mahoning Valley matter. And, when properly informed and engaged, the people have the power to affect change. 

Our mission statement is simple: We seek to tell the stories that matter in Mahoning County and empower citizens to engage in their community with a focus on solutions. We will tell the local stories that aren't being told anywhere else in the Mahoning Valley, focusing on the “how” and “why” behind the news.

The Compass Experiment was founded in partnership between McClatchy and the Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project to experiment with a variety of revenue models with the goal of creating local news operations that are financially self-sustaining. After we announced our first site would open in Youngstown, we got to work on building a news outlet with the community in mind. 

The first part of the puzzle was hiring a team with deep local ties to the area. The entire Mahoning Matters team joined us from The Vindicator, Youngstown’s daily newspaper that closed in August 2019 after 150 years in business. Our staff lives and works out in the community every day, often holding team meetings in cafes and libraries where they can best interact with readers.

The second way we put the readers first in building Mahoning Matters was by getting out and talking to them. In August, we held a series of community forums in partnership with the Youngstown and Mahoning County Public Library to find out what readers needed and wanted from a local news site. We also had one-on-one discussions with community leaders and other local media.

Mahoning Matters reader suggestions

Community member suggestions about local news. (Photo by Abby Reimer.)


Attendees at our forums said they wanted a clear-eyed look at their community, highlighting its successes as well as problems to be solved. Above all, they were concerned that Mahoning County was going to lose access to the watchdog reporting that The Vindicator had provided for so many years. 

With a small team, we know we can’t afford to do everything. So we are focusing on topics of utmost importance to those living in the region, which includes coverage of government, healthcare, housing and the local economy as well as community-centric features like obituaries, local events and high school sports. 

Mahoning Matters’ revenue model is centered on content sponsorship, digital advertising and a membership component to be added later. Borrowing from our partners at Village Media, we offer local businesses an in-depth and customizable home within our directory, sponsorships of appealing content categories and locally-focused, brand safe display advertising.

We hope to learn quite a bit about how to sustain original local news from the work of Mahoning Matters, lessons which we will continue to share with the broader media community. In fact, we’ve already learned so much from creating this site that will be helpful as we turn our focus to identifying and creating the next Compass site in the months to come. 

Discover India through its crafts

Crafts are an essential part of India’s rural economy and also play an important role in India’s history and communities across the country today. Expanding our partnership with India’s Ministry of Tourism, we’re launching “Crafted in India” on Google Arts & Culture, so more people from around the world can discover the beauty and heritage of crafts from all 29 states of India. We spoke to Jaya Jaitly, the President of our partner institution Dastkari Haat Samiti, who traveled around the country for two years to document and preserve the items in the exhibition.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and your work in India.
I spent some years of my childhood in Japan, where I became a lover of art, crafts and textiles. I also have a passion for social activism, so it was a natural fit to explore the traditions of my home country India through these guiding principles—showcasing not just the crafts themselves, but how they lift up the economic and social status of the craft-makers. By documenting their work I strive to promote their culture and show how their designs and skills suit a contemporary and ever-changing world.

Why a project about crafts from India?
I was very excited when we got an opportunity to use the platform that Google Arts & Culture has created to show the world our craft creators. They have amazing skills, great resilience and work closely with their communities and environment. There is so much to discover, like how you can craft paper from the most unexpected materials, like pineapple fibres, old currency, or animal dung.

What aspect of Indian crafts did you capture and discover?
I hope we have captured the fantastic diversity of India’s crafts. Our stories show many different lifestyles, languages, communities, identities, styles of dress and traditions that India has nurtured over centuries. I am especially proud of the stories in the exhibition that show the strong role of women.

Working on the project, is there anything in particular that surprised you?
Living in urban India and familiar with many kinds of lifestyles all over the world, I was fascinated to discover how many of our craftspeople hold on to old practices and techniques despite the laborious processes involved. Their versatility in adapting to new materials, audiences and customers showed their sense of pride in their heritage.

How do crafts define the people and the culture of India? What can you learn about India through its crafts?
India is now prominent on all sorts of platforms across the world. And craft, in all its varieties, is one of the strongest crucibles of India’s culture. It can be at the center of developing our rural economy, sustaining our planet and promoting our diverse people and livelihoods. I also hope it will encourage people who enjoy the exhibition to come to India and engage with it more closely—this is just a small peek at the vast treasure chest on offer.