Category Archives: Official Google Blog

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How the Google Assistant masters conversations—and you can, too

Heading home for the holidays? Here’s hoping it’ll be a joyous reunion with friends and family, with plenty of cookies to go around. But if you’ve already been dreading those questions from your great-aunt about your love life, consider the ways we teach the Assistant to have natural conversations—it’ll make the talk your great-aunt a little less dreadful.

I’m on the Assistant’s conversational design team, where we work to make your chats with the Google Assistant as pleasant as possible. I’ve been teaching computers how to talk for nearly 20 years, starting my career working on some of those automated phone systems you’ve probably dealt with when you lost a suitcase at the airport. (In my case on a recent trip to Norway, it took 10 of those phone calls to find that lost bag!)

In my years in the industry, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make conversations work. And so has the Google Assistant.

Give just the right amount of information.

We’ve all had that one relative who keeps droning on about a boring topic at the dinner table, oblivious to the fact that half the room has dozed off. And sometimes we experience the opposite problem, where we ask someone a question and they don’t provide enough information. Like when I ask my son what time it is, and he responds, “Yes.”

To strike the right balance when we design conversations for the Google Assistant, we follow something called the Cooperative Principle, proposed by Paul Grice in the 1970s. His Maxim of Quantity means we shouldn’t talk too much, or too little.

Here’s an example of a conversation that follows the Maxim of Quantity, along with one that doesn’t.

Do
Uncle Anthony: So, how is your first year of college going?
Me: Great! I’m taking four classes.  My favorite is called “Taking care of turtles in the 21st century.” Do you know what a turtle’s favorite food is?

Don't
Uncle Anthony: So, how is your first year of college going?|
Me: Great! I’m taking four classes. My favorite is called “Taking care of turtles in the 21st century.” Some turtles are carnivores, and some are vegetarian. Sea turtles even eat squid. Leatherback sea turtles can grow to 1000 pounds!
Uncle Anthony: Zzzzzzz….

goldfish

Illustration by Kimberly Harvey, conversation designer, Google Assistant

Make it clear when it’s the other person’s turn to talk.

We use a variety of signals to let another person know when we’ve finished talking, and when it’s the next person’s turn to talk. For example, when I pause to take a bite of peppermint bark, that’s an opening for the other person to speak. When designing conversations with computers, which aren’t able to use things like eye contact and body language to determine when it’s their turn, it’s key to end each turn with a question or an instruction, to avoid confusion. And that tactic can work with your family, too, so you’re not always talking over one another.

Do
Me: So I went to this awesome concert. Have you ever been to a concert?
Grandma: Yes, I went to see the Beach Boys in 1987. What a show! Who did you see, dear?
Me: Wow, how interesting. I went to a show called Punky Kittens.  

Don't
Me: So I went to this awesome concert. Have you ever been to a concert? I went--
Grandma Zara: Yes, I went to--
Me: --went to the greatest show the other day, and...
Grandma Zara: What?
Me: What?

Acknowledge the person you’re speaking with.

One of our most basic desires as humans is to be understood. We want to know the other person is hearing us correctly, like when you ask your brother to pass the green beans, not the gravy. One way the Assistant does this is by using something called “implicit confirmation.” This is how you let someone know they’ve been heard, and establish trust. Let’s see an example where, due to a misunderstanding, a cranberry crisis nearly occurs:

Do
Me: Hey Joanne, I love (mumble mumble) cranberry sauce!|
Chef cousin who hates canned cranberry sauce: You like canned cranberry sauce?  
Me: Actually I said FRESH cranberry sauce…
Chef: Me too!
Crisis averted.)

Don't
Me: Hey Joanne, I love <mumble mumble> cranberry sauce!
Chef: What? I hate that stuff!
Me: Oh yeah? I don’t see why, you make it every year!
(Crisis!)

Only use visuals when they’re appropriate.

The Google Assistant is available on multiple types of devices, from the voice-only Google Home, to the voice-forward Home Hub, to the multi-modal mobile phone. Because of this, we need to consider when it’s most appropriate to introduce visuals, such as cards or carousels, to the conversation.

Our go-to design principle is to add visuals when they enhance the discussion, and not to let them overshadow the rest of the conversation. Try to keep this in mind when you’re sitting down with family and friends.

Do
Me: I just came back from a trip to Costa Rica, where we saw some amazing monkeys. Here’s my favorite monkey picture! <shows 1 photo>
Everyone: Oooh! How cute!

Don't
Me: Who wants to see my slideshow of my cruise to Costa Rica? I have 350 photos. Let me find that one on the beach where I saw a monkey. In fact, I’ll show you all 50 of them!
Everyone: (Runs away.)

Get some practice with your Assistant.

Before you head out for the holidays, try having a few conversations with your Google Assistant and see if you can spot these great communication principles in action. We hope that by following some of these best practices, your holiday dinners will be more pleasant and relaxed.  

And if you’re looking for some fun things to do with your Google Assistant, try saying “Hey Google, talk to Santa” or “Hey Google, tell me a winter story.”

The latest AdMob updates: making more money with mobile app ads

We know app developers of all sizes need valuable and easy-to-use solutions to earn more from their apps. That’s why we’ve invested in providing tools that not only empower you to build sustainable revenue streams, but also make your job easier. 

Here are a few vital ways we help developers grow their businesses, along with a look at what’s new. 

Google’s advanced monetization technology

Earlier this year we introduced Open Bidding in beta, a new monetization model where all participating ad buyers compete simultaneously in one unified auction. Developers using Open Bidding are already seeing more ad revenue and less latency for their users. 

Today, we are excited to announce that the Open Bidding program now features eight advertising partners for mobile ad buying. In addition to OpenX, Index Exchange, Smaato, Tapjoy and AdColony, now Facebook Audience Network, AppLovin, and Rubicon Project are joining the ongoing beta. With these new partners, we're offering diverse sources of app advertising to compete for ad inventory in real time, driving even more revenue for app developers. 

"AdColony is excited to join forces with Google to move the app monetization ecosystem forward with Open Bidding. AdMob’s scale of advertiser demand and ease of integration provides a tremendous opportunity for app developers to drive more revenue and operational efficiency.”

- David Pokress, EVP Publishing & Account Management at AdColony

We’re continuing to add new features to Open Bidding based on feedback from our beta participants, including support for all ad formats like interstitial, rewarded, banner, which are all available today, and native, which will be added soon. 

In addition to asking for more formats and advertising demand, developers participating in our beta have also asked us for transparency into who is bidding on and buying their ad inventory. We’re pleased to announce that we'll be adding a new auction report that allows developers to understand how their different advertising partners are performing. Open Bidding Auction Reports will be available to beta participants early next year. 

google-admob-open-bidding-new-ads-partner

While we’re paving the way for the next era of monetization technology, we also know that waterfall mediation* isn’t going away anytime soon. That’s why we’ve built Open Bidding to work seamlessly with waterfall mediation to maximize the value of every impression and simplify operations. Beta participants have noted the compatibility as a meaningful value-add. 

Get set up quickly with developer-first tools

Regardless of whether developers use waterfall mediation, Open Bidding, or both, we’re committed to delivering the best experience on our platform. We know onboarding processes can be painful and create extra work—but we’ve got a few new tools to help with that. 

AdMob’s new Mediation Test Suite beta makes it easier to test if your app is set up correctly to display ads, so you don’t miss out on revenue. Now, if you hit a snag with the SDK integration, you can test each individual network and instantly identify the source of the issue (e.g. SDK, adapter, credentials, etc.)—no more blindly troubleshooting issues and searching for the source. Once everything checks out, you’ll see an ad in the testing environment to confirm that the pipes are ready.

Another new beta feature is the ability to “warm up” your SDK adapters to reduce timeouts on the first ad request. Soon, you'll be able to initialize all SDK adapters in a single call to AdMob, ensuring all adapters are ready to go when the first ad is requested. 

Our goal is to make setup easier. And if you do get stuck, we have the resources and global support to help you move fast.

In addition to building better tools, we’re partnering with players across the ecosystem and moving to a more efficient model that enables developers to earn more from their apps. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements over the next few months. 


*Waterfall mediation uses historical revenue data to prioritize networks and call them one at a time. 

Say “G’day” and “Cheerio” to new accents for your Google Assistant

Starting today, if you’re an English speaker in the U.S., you can choose between an Australian-accented voice and a British-accented voice for your Google Assistant across devices.

All of the features you use are still the same—like setting a timer, checking the weather and getting an overview of your commute—only now, your Assistant will speak with a new accent. Try asking “Hey Google, what’s the exchange rate from British pound to U.S. dollar?,” “Hey Google, what’s the capital of Australia?,” or “Hey Google, where can I get fish and chips nearby?”

These voices are built using DeepMind’s speech synthesis model WaveNet, which uses deep neural networks to generate raw audio waveforms—resulting in more realistic and natural-sounding voices for the Google Assistant.

To try out these new voices on your Assistant, navigate to “Settings” on your phone, tap on the “Assistant” tab, and select “Assistant voice.” You’ll now see two new voices that you can select, either “Sydney Harbour Blue” for the Australian voice, or “British Racing Green” for the British voice.

We hope you enjoy these new voices as much as we do. Cheers!

Inside Brazil’s National Museum on Google Arts & Culture

On September 2nd 2018, a fire struck the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, one of the largest collections of natural history in the world. An estimated 20 million pieces were lost, including indigenous artifacts, dinosaur remains and the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in the Americas.

Starting back in 2017, Google Arts & Culture had begun working with the museum to bring their collection online—so that anyone, anywhere in the world could see and learn about these ancient artifacts. Now for the first time ever, you can virtually step inside the museum and learn about its lost collection through Street View imagery and online exhibits.

The incredible diversity of artifacts in Brazil’s National Museum reflected centuries of Brazil's culture and natural history, from the Amazon’s endangered butterflies to beautifully-crafted indigenous masks and decorated pottery. Unfortunately, the destruction of collections like these reminds us of the diverse threats that exist to the world’s heritage—and how important it is to protect it. Advances in technology—like high-resolution photography, photogrammetry, 3D laser scanning, and virtual and augmented reality—have not only introduced new forms of art, but help us preserve the world's most precious heritage. Even though images cannot replace what has been lost, they offer us a way to remember.

Learn more about the National Museum of Brazil by exploring the exhibition on Google Arts & Culture and on our iOS and Android apps.

Find a better balance with our tips for Digital Wellbeing

A good tool should make your life easier. That’s as true in the digital world as it is anywhere else. Today, people use digital tools to simplify and speed up tasks from finding a playground for their children to checking the weather forecast, giving them more space to focus on what matters most to them. Technology is transforming the way we spend time, and our Digital Wellbeing efforts can help you make the most of that time—so that technology fits comfortably into your life, without the unwanted distractions. On Pixel, Android, YouTube, Family Link and Gmail, we’ve already released new tools and features to help people better balance their lives. But our products are only part of the story.

To get the word out about healthy habits, we created a new series of Digital Wellbeing videos as part of Google’s Digital Workshop. Each video encourages you to think about how you use technology and suggests ways to find the right balance for you. Because Digital Wellbeing means something different for each of us, we’ve partnered with a team of psychologists, anthropologists and mindfulness experts. There are medical professionals, like Mario Alonso Puig, recognized worldwide for his studies on brain activity, and educators like Greta Rossi, co-founder of Recipes for Wellbeing. By drawing on each of their perspectives, the series takes an honest look at the way we live with tech, from how smartphone notifications affect productivity, to exploring how to set physical boundaries for  technology use, and the ways you can become more self-aware of your online habits.

This course is just the beginning of a wide range of educational materials we’re working on, covering topics from how kids use technology to how to manage mobile phone usage. In the coming months, we’ll make the new course available in more than 30 languages across 64 countries.The next time you need to find a better balance–whether you want to disconnect on your vacation or reduce the number of distractions in your day—check out the videos.

AI for Social Good in Asia Pacific

More than 400 million people in the world have diabetes. A third of them have diabetic retinopathy, a complication that can cause permanent blindness. The good news is that this blindness can be prevented if diabetic retinopathy is detected early. The not-so-good news—the illness is often going undetected because people don’t always get screenings. In major part, this is due to limited access to eye care specialists and staff capable of screening for the disease. In Thailand, for example, there are only about 1,400 eye doctors for approximately five million diabetics.


This is a problem that AI can help us solve. A few years ago, we worked with eye specialists in India and the U.S. on an AI system to help doctors analyze images of the back of the eye for signs of diabetic retinopathy. The results were promising. Our AI model now detects diabetic retinopathy with a level of accuracy on par with human retinal specialists. This means doctors and staff can use this assistive technology to screen more patients in less time, sparing people from blindness through a more timely diagnosis. Deploying this technology in underserved communities that don’t have enough eye specialists could be life-changing for many.


We should work to make the benefits of AI available to everyone. Besides rolling out this diabetic retinopathy initiative in clinics in India with our partner Verily, we’ve also been conducting research in Thailand over the past few months. At the AI for Social Good Summit in Bangkok hosted by Google and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) today, we announced a partnership with the Rajavithi Hospital, which is operated by the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand, kicking off a forward looking research pilot using AI to detect diabetic retinopathy in Thailand.


AI’s potential for social good extends to areas beyond healthcare. For several years, we’ve applied Google AI research and engineering to projects in Asia Pacific with positive societal impact, including stopping illegal fishing in Indonesia, forecasting floods in India, and conserving native bird species in New Zealand. We want to support more Asia Pacific organizations in using AI to help society. And we know from experience that when we involve everyone—governments, non-profit organizations, universities and businesses—better ideas emerge.


To gather more of these ideas, we recently launched the Google AI Impact Challenge. Selected organizations who apply to the challenge will receive support from Google’s AI experts and Google.org grant funding from a $25 million pool.


To ensure that all sectors contribute to the responsible development of AI in Asia Pacific, we’re supporting the creation of an Asia Pacific AI for Social Good Research Network with a grant. This network will bring together leading academics from the Association of Pacific Rim Universities to produce research on AI for social good, as well as governance frameworks, to guide the responsible development of AI. The network will also be a forum for researchers to discuss these issues with government, civil society and the private sector.  


Google has long been committed to the responsible development of AI. These principles guide our decisions on what types of features to build and research to pursue. As one example, facial recognition technology has benefits in areas like new assistive technologies and tools to help find missing persons, with more promising applications on the horizon. However, like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes. We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions.


It’s up to all of us to ensure that AI is developed responsibly for social good. We hope that these partnerships will help us achieve that in Asia Pacific.


On the 12th day of holiday shopping, Made by Google gave to me…

On the final days of holiday shopping, Made by Google gave to me … lots of awesome gift options.

Twelve ways (at least!) to make your home smarter and safer

Holiday lights are aglow when you turn them on with Google Home (and a compatible smart plug). And to turn on the rest of the lights using just your voice, get our Smart Home Starter Kit. A Nest Hello video doorbell will help you spot holiday visitors at your front door and our Nest Cam will reveal who’s eating Santa’s cookies.


Eleven personalized My Cases

With My Case, gift-giving gets personal. Create a case from your saved photos, a favorite map location, or pick one of our curated collections from various artists. It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for anyone on #teampixel. And while we love a good ugly sweater, all images for My Cases are subject to our copyright and content policy.


Ten levels of volume on Google Home Max

Blast the holiday music with Google Home Max. If you have your hands full making cookies or decorating the tree, you can use your voice to tell it to play your next tune (you may need a subscription to hear your favorite song).


Nine decades of Mickey Mouse

To celebrate 90 years of Mickey, we teamed up with Disney and Otterbox to make your Google Home Mini look like your favorite mouse with a custom base accessory. You can also make storytime more magical with Read Along, which adds sound effects and music to stories like “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” Parents can create an account for kids under 13 through Family Link, and then link their Google Account and voice to Google Home.


Eight gigs of Pixelbook RAM

This one is a bit harder to wrap, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving. With 8GB of RAM on your Pixelbook, you can do multi-task with multiple tabs open. And, Pixelbook’s battery lasts all Silent Night.


Seven colors of Nest Thermostats

Our Nest thermostats come in two versions and seven colors. So turn up the heater in style this holiday season, and get the peace of mind that you’re saving energy while celebrating.


Six uses for Pixel Stand

You can do countless things with Pixel Stand, but here are six of our favorites: it provides Pixel 3 with a fast (up to 10W) wireless charge, you can check the weather before you head out, rock out to your favorite carol, get out of bed on dark December days with Sunrise Alarm, check on packages with Nest Hello (sold separately), and display your favorite holiday memories with Google Photos.


Five years of Chromecast

It’s the perfect time of year to snuggle up inside and binge watch your favorite show (but you may need a subscription). Chromecast brings countless hours of entertainment to your TV-loving friend or family member. And isn’t that really the holiday gift that keeps on giving?

Four colors of Google Home Hub

Who needs elves when you’ve got Google Home Hub to bring you help at a glance? With the Google Assistant built-in, you can use your voice to get the best of Google—Calendar, Maps, Search, YouTube, Google Photos, and more—right on Google Home Hub’s display. Compact, and available in four colors —Chalk, Charcoal, Aqua and Sand—Hub’s right for any room at home.


Three generations of Pixel

The best things in life come in threes. This year, we introduced the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, with the power of Google Assistant. Pixel’s award-winning camera gives you the ability to capture your holiday magic in style. And, Pixel 3 brings the best premium smartphone experience to Android, in—you guessed it—three beautiful colors, including the new Not Pink.


Two accessories to use with Pixel Slate

Pixel Slate—our first Made by Google Chrome OS tablet—is a touchscreen experience that brings the best Google design and Chrome OS functionality together. Whether you’re typing your letter to Santa on the Pixel Slate Keyboard or writing out your holiday wish list using Pixelbook Pen, these two gifts are the perfect stocking stuffers to go along with Pixel Slate.


One place to buy it all

The Google Store is a one-stop shop for all things Made by Google. In addition to the perfect holiday gifts mentioned above, the Google Store also features products from our Made for Google partners. And perfect for the holiday season, you can send gifts on Google Store with custom gift messages printed on Google-branded greeting cards. Check out all of the amazing holiday deals at store.google.com.


New Google Marketing Platform connectors available in Data Studio

When marketers can access all of their data in one place, they are able to make smarter decisions about where and how to spend their resources. While data tends to be siloed and it can be a challenge to connect all of it in one place, your marketing investment will go further if you do.


Data Studio gives marketers access to a diverse and growing catalogue of connectors for over 500 data sources to help centralize your datasets for simple reporting and visualization in one place. And we’ve recently added two more. Earlier this fall we launched connectors for Display & Video 360 and Search Ads 360. These two connectors enable access to your Google Marketing Platform advertising data in your Data Studio dashboards and reports. Explore the data independently, or join it with your other marketing data from Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Google Ads, and other first party data sources to surface powerful insights you can easily share and take action on.


Once your Google Marketing Platform data is in Data Studio, you can customize your reports based on your needs. For example, you can add custom branding or repurpose visualizations like charts or graphs that your team already uses elsewhere to make it your own. And, Data Studio reports are easily shareable outside of the interface. With Display & Video 360 and Search Ads 360 data now accessible in Data Studio, you can share dynamic Google Marketing Platform advertising reports with anyone, using Google Drive sharing permissions you have complete control of.


Let’s say you want to build a report to compare how your advertising is performing across Display & Video 360, Search Ads 360 and Google Ads. You can use the out-of-the-box, new Google advertising performance template to view top-line metrics with your own data, or create a custom report, using connectors to import your data.  From there, you can use the Explorer functionality to experiment with visualizations and organize the data to your liking. You can also blend the data together and do analysis across all three (or more) datasets. Add your Google Analytics data for example, and see aggregate trends in customer behavior on your site alongside your advertising campaign performance. Then share with your media team or agency and take action to optimize your campaigns based on the insights you find.

With Data Studio’s rich visualization and reporting features, marketers can elevate insights from their ad campaigns and breakdown silos among many disparate datasets. By bringing Google Marketing Platform advertising data into Data Studio, you can now see a fuller picture across your customer touchpoints and make more informed, faster marketing decisions.

Six ways to take Playground home for the holidays with Pixel

In October, we launched Playground on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, giving you the power to create and play with the world around you through your camera. Playground helps you bring more of your imagination to your photos and videos with interactive Playmoji—characters that react to each other and to you—and tell a richer story by adding animated stickers and creative captions. Starting today, Playground is available on Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, so now all of #teampixel can join in on the fun.

Just in time for the holidays, we’re also introducing festive new Playmoji and stickers soon that can help bring your photos and videos to life. Whether you’re celebrating at home or hitting the road, here are six ways you can take Playground home for the holidays with the Pixel camera.

1. Share your journey.Whether your holiday travels take you away on a plane, train or automobile, getting there is all the fun with the speedy new Travel Playmoji pack. Document your adventures from the window seat, or spice up snaps from your road trip.

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2. Send a virtual postcard. Wish loved ones a happy holiday from wherever you are with Playmoji, stickers and captions. Or say it all in a selfie by posing with characters who react to you. Once you’ve lined up the perfect shot, sharing with Playground is easy—just a few taps straight from the camera.

winter

3. Let your creativity snow. Brrr! Chillier temperatures mean a chance to use snowy Weather Playmoji and the Winter Playmoji pack during your favorite seasonal activities like ice skating and hockey.

Oy to the World

4. Put your spin on a scene. Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! We made you out of…pixels. Hanukkah may be over, but you can use these themed stickers year-round, complete with dancing menorah candles, spinning dreidels and latkes galore.

ar ornaments

5. Deck the halls. Make an old tradition new again by challenging your family to a tree decorating contest with Playground. One tree, endless possibilities!

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6. Tell an imaginative story. Add some flair to holiday scenes with the jolly new “Christmas Cheer” stickers. Throw a Santa hat on your friend, stick mistletoe where it belongs or place a one-of-a-kind “gift” under the tree.

holiday hello

You can spread the holiday cheer with Playground this season by sharing your creations with #teampixel. We can’t wait to see what you create!