Category Archives: Google Europe Blog

Google’s views on the Internet and society Europe

Travel to Croatia with Google Arts & Culture

Croatia, the country of a thousand islands, is well known for its spectacular beaches and national parks, and as one of the sunniest places in Europe. But it also has a rich cultural history, with one of the highest counts of items on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Google Arts & Culture partnered with the Croatian National Tourist Board, the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb and the Museum Alka of Sinjto let the world experience the colors and sounds of Croatia. Learn about the local crafts, dance like there is no music, join best-in-class festivals or learn about the national delicacy strukli.

1. The Crafts

Croatia Crafts.jpg

Decorating licitars Photo: Luka Smuk / Croatian National Tourist Board

Toy making from the region of Hrvatsko Zagorje Photo: Julien Duval / Croatian National Tourist Board

It’s the little things that give a place a distinct personality. In virtually every gift shop and souvenir stand in Croatia, the sweet biscuits called licitars are ubiquitous. The bright red, decorated hearts, birds and other shapes aren’t just colorful mementos—they’re part of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage and a symbol of the country itself. Another tradition that survived centuries is the skill of handcrafting wooden toys. They are ubiquitous to the region, so much that in 2009, the traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region of Croatia was inscribed to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Check out the whole toy-making process.

2. The Fashion

Croatia Fashion.jpg

Ljelja singing Photo: Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Slavonika beret Photo: LFP Studio / Croatian National Tourist Board

When people think of the cultural heritage of Croatia, they often look to centuries-old traditions being kept alive by a small handful of practitioners. Croatia is vibrant with colors and traditional regional costumes, from Dalmatia’s floral handkerchiefs to Gorjani’s hats literally made out of flowers. Historical men’s fashion includes Alkar lancers, whose dark blue uniforms and plumes in their hats will take you back in time to the Ottoman Empire. And for an unforgettable celebration of color, there is nothing quite like the Rijeka Carnival.  A new wave of young Croatian designers is taking inspiration from the country’s rich history of folk arts and crafts and applying it to contemporary fashion and accessories. See herehow Croatian crafts are influencing today’s design and fashion.

3. The Festivals

Croatia Festivals.jpg
Lastovo Poklad festival with firecrackers: photographer: Stjepan Tafra / Croatian National Tourist Board

Bell ringers festival Photographer: Ivan Vranjić / Croatian National Tourist Board

Croatia is rich in music festivals, historic reenactments and religious festivities. Throughout the year, but especially in the spring and summer, annual festivities celebrate Croatia’s local, regional and national traditions. There is the loud and empowering Bell Ringers’ Pageant in Kastav, a historic Alka Tournament in Sinj, the beautifully costumed Spring Procession of Ljelje and the hilarious donkey race in Tribunj. On the opposite side of the country, on far-off Korčula Island, the locals cultivate the saber dance, a choreographed mock sword battle between two kings fighting for the love of a princess—quite a spectacle to see!

4. The Places

Drywall on Kaprije island _ Croatian National Tourist Board _ Photo_ Ivo Pervan.jpg

Dry stone wall on Kaprije island Photo: Ivo Pervan

Though Croatia is full of beautiful beaches and vibrant cities, the country’s foundations rest on dry stonewalls, which dates as far back as the 9th century BCE. That was when the ancient Liburnians began to erect defensive hill forts and walls using stone but no mortar or other binding material. They were such good builders that remnants of these constructions remain even today. Bavljenac Island has the densest concentration of dry stone walls, and when viewed from above it looks like a giant fingertip

Curious to see more? Stroll around these top five locations and immerse yourself in the lush naturescapes of the country. Alternatively, check out g.co/travelcroatia, download the Android or iOS app or visit Google Arts & Culture. Uživaj!


Supporting a greener future in Europe

This week, Google announced that we’ve eliminated our entire carbon legacy since the company was founded, as well as our most ambitious sustainability goal yet—we aim to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all our data centres and campuses worldwide by 2030. 

That means that every email you send through Gmail, every question you ask Google Search and every YouTube video you watch is already carbon neutral. In the future, our services will be supplied only by carbon-free energy every hour of every day.

Here in Europe, the European Commission has set its sights on another ambitious goal with the European Green deal: to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent, reduce emissions, drive clean growth and create green jobs. 

We applaud this vision. Dating back to the first energy-efficient data centre we built in Belgium in 2007, we've made many investments to support Europe's leadership in clean energy and climate policy. Today, at the GreenTech festival in Berlin, our CEO Sundar Pichai shared how we will support Europe’s green vision further, in three main ways:

  • We’ll drive billions of euros in investment and thousands of new green jobs in Europe
  • We’ll help European business and partners increase energy efficiency through AI
  • We’ll boost innovation in cities and support European nonprofits with a €10 million Google.org Impact Challenge 

We’ll also support public policies that strengthen global action on climate through the Paris Agreement, help create carbon-free electricity systems, and ensure that the clean energy transition provides economic opportunity for all. Indeed, we know that strong public policy action is critical to making carbon-free solutions available to everyone, helping all communities prosper equally.


Investing in green infrastructure and creating thousands of jobs

By 2025, we expect to anchor over €2 billion of investment in new carbon-free energy generation projects and green infrastructure in Europe, helping to develop new technologies to make round-the-clock carbon-free energy cheaper and more widely available. This will help create more than 2,000 new clean energy jobs in Europe by 2025. 

This comes on top of other investments we’ve made in Europe. Between 2007-2018, Google invested approximately €7 billion in constructing some of the world’s most energy-efficient data centres in Europe, supporting 9,600 full-time jobs across Europe each year on average. And last year, we announced we would purchase energy from 10 new renewable energy infrastructure projects, which spurred more than €1 billion of investment in renewable energy in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and created approximately 1,000 jobs in the process. 

In the coming decade we’ll invest in green skills training in Europe. For example, we’re partnering with SolarPower Europe to host introductory courses on careers in the solar industry, to support their goal of driving more than half a million solar jobs in Europe and power 20 percent of Europe's electricity demand with solar by 2030.


Helping other business and organisations increase energy efficiency with AI

We’re committed to creating tools, sharing expertise and investing in technologies that help others in the transition to a carbon-free world.  We’ll do even more to help our partners increase energy efficiency and reduce waste. 

Using machine learning, we’ve reduced by 30 percent the energy needed for cooling our data centres. Now, we’re making this proven cloud technology solution available for use by commercial buildings and industrial facilities around the world—such as airports, shopping malls and other data centres, helping them reduce their own carbon impact.

For example, by using Google AI to analyse large data sets and forecast demand, the French retailer Carrefour managed to drastically reduce food waste. The German electric utility company E.ON is using Cloud Data Analytics to help energy managers make decisions that reduce costs and CO2 footprint. 


Boosting innovation, helping cities and local governments, supporting reforestation

Nonprofits, civil society organisations, and universities play a critical role in mitigating the effects of climate change. We’ve seen the positive impact of funding innovative ideas and leaders, such as U.K.-based Carbon Tracker’s partnership with WattTime and others to track global carbon emissions from satellite imagery.

To help further support Europe’s green pioneers, we’re launching a new Google.org Impact Challenge. We’re making available €10 million for the most promising European ideas and projects that support increased access to, or use of, renewable energy, decarbonization of transportation, improved air quality, natural resource planning and protection, or circular economy and design. Applications are open today. Recipients will receive up to €2 million in funding and in some cases support from the Google.org Impact Challenge Accelerator. They will be selected by independent experts, including Greentech founder Nico Rosberg, scientist Dr. Maggie Adderin-Pocock, Director General of the Finnish Environment Institute Lea Kauppi, and Former Irish Minister for the Environment John Gormley. 

In addition, we’ve pledged to help 500 cities and local governments globally reduce an aggregate of one gigaton (that’s 1 billion tons) of carbon emissions per year by 2030—more than a country the size of Germany emits. This adds to the €2.7 million from Google.org we committed last year to support European cities in implementing climate action plans. For example, with funding from the Google.org ICLEI Action Fund, the Birmingham-based nonprofit Centre for Sustainable Energy is launching an open-source, city-wide data set, along with tools to model decarbonization options for buildings in the city and other interventions.

Finally, as part of our work to remove carbon from the atmosphere, we’re launching a science-based reforestation program and pledging $1 million in funding from Google.org to develop tools that will help increase the likelihood of success for ecosystem restoration projects around the world, including in Northern Spain.

We’re optimistic that this can be a decisive decade for climate action.  We’re committed to supporting Europe's ambition to become the first carbon-neutral continent and to playing our part to move the world closer to a carbon-free future.


Cities: where climate action can have the most impact

Cities bring people and ideas together. They increase living standards, spur innovation, increase opportunity, and encourage collaboration. Cities can also be the most environmentally sustainable way for people to inhabit our planet, if we can address the reality that cities are currently responsible for 70 percent of the world’s CO₂ emissions. While this may seem like an insurmountable challenge, it’s actually a tremendous opportunity. Cities can become centers of climate action, and lead the world in driving economic recovery and resilience. 

As part of Google's most ambitious decade of climate action, we’re making a commitment to help more than 500 cities and local governments reduce an aggregate of 1 gigaton (that’s one billion tons) of carbon emissions per year by 2030 and beyond.

To do this, we'll empower city planners and policymakers with the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE), a platform we developed by analyzing Google’s comprehensive global mapping data together with standard greenhouse gas (GHG) emission factors. Today, we’re expanding access to EIE, going from 122 cities with access to more than 3,000 cities worldwide—a 25-fold increase. We’re also partnering with leading organizations, like ICLEI and Ironbark Sustainability, to support local climate action planning.

EIE platform

Request EIE data access for your city and learn more about Google’s other city climate action.


Turning climate insights into action

For cities to make a meaningful impact in reducing their carbon emissions tomorrow, they need to know where they stand today.

Yet according to the Global Covenant of Mayors, an international alliance of nearly 10,000 cities and local governments committed to fighting climate change, less than 20 percent of cities are able to execute on their commitments to climate action due to a lack of time, resources and data. And with COVID-19 leaving many localities with reduced budgets and limited resources, it’s even harder to build out a baseline emissions inventory or a robust climate plan.

With Environmental Insights Explorer, cities can leapfrog the constraints associated with lengthy climate studies. Cities can use EIE’s anonymized, aggregated mapping data and emissions insights to easily estimate the carbon footprint of their buildings and transportation activities, as well as discover their solar energy potential. Information that once required complicated onsite measurements and months to compile can now be assessed virtually, helping cities dedicate their energies toward action.

Cultivating partnerships with climate action leaders and cities worldwide

When it comes to climate change, we all need to work together. Nonprofits, businesses, universities and other leaders play an important role in testing new ideas and partnering with cities to implement the ones that work.

We’ve collaborated with partners to scale data access. Leading organizations like Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI ) and Ironbark Sustainability are integrating EIE data into their own tools, helping digitize emissions measurement and planning. With EIE data, Ironbark Sustainability is automating how they provide greenhouse gas emission information to local government councils across Australia so decision-makers can target their climate action activities.

Sign up for EIE.png

With the Insights Workspace dashboard in EIE, cities can review and evaluate emissions data. Data for more than 3,000 cities is freely available by registering for access at http://goo.gle/eie.

To help spark even more data-driven climate action, last year Google.org committed $4 million in funding to ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability to create the ICLEI Action Fund. The fund awards projects from local organizations in Europe, Mexico and South America focused on using environmental datasets to reduce citywide emissions.


Today, ICLEI is announcing the first two selected projects. In Hamburg, HafenCity University is creating a tool to help the city identify spaces and districts that can be used as urban testbeds for prototyping sustainable mobility, building efficiency and solar energy development projects. In Monterrey, Mexico, Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey received a grant to refine and amplify EIE data to help municipalities in the Monterrey region develop climate action plans. They’ll also use the data to run a model of traffic patterns in Monterrey to assess the electrification of a fleet of buses and how to optimize  transit routes.  


Supporting economic recovery and resilience with climate action

Efforts to combat climate change are both essential and a once-in-a-generation moment to create impactful jobs and modernize infrastructure. As communities are working to combat, and recover from, a global pandemic, reducing carbon emissions can and should support that recovery. 

Already, cities and local governments across the world are using EIE to set bold climate action plans and support economic development:

The opportunity in front of us all

We’ve always viewed challenges as opportunities to be helpful and make things better for everyone. To build a better future and protect our planet, we’ll continue focused efforts that help our partners take climate action and strengthen investments in technologies to make a carbon-free world a reality.

A more responsible, innovative and helpful internet in Europe

Over the last 20 years, digital tools have played an increasingly important role in our everyday lives, in societal debate and in the economy. In 2020, many of us have found digital tools to be a real lifeline. We've used them to connect with loved ones and teach our children during lockdown. Governments have used them to share vital information with citizens. And businesses across Europe are using them to reach customers and recover more quickly and sustainably. As we look to the future, it's important that regulation keeps pace with change, and Google supports Europe's effort to create a more responsible, innovative and helpful internet for everyone.

That's why we are submitting our response today to the consultation for the European Digital Services Act (DSA), drawing on our 20+ years experience in building technology that both helps people and creates greater economic opportunity. Well-designed regulation gives consumers confidence that their interests are being protected as they shop, search and socialize online. It also provides businesses with protection from opaque or unfair practices.

Our response encourages European policymakers to build on the success of the e-Commerce Directive and focus on three key areas: 


  • A more responsible internet: Introducing clearer rules for notifying platforms of illegal content while protecting fundamental rights of expression and access to information 
  • A more innovative internet: Encouraging economic growth and innovation by enabling Europeans to build the next generation of apps, businesses and services, and exporting European creativity and culture around the world
  • A more helpful internet: Competition regulation which supports product innovations, helps people manage their data and provides businesses with the tools to grow 

A more responsible internet

Because of our commitment to safety, we invest heavily in technology and people to combat illegal content, and we welcome an updated legal framework. We would encourage legislators to  provide greater clarity on the rules, roles and responsibilities of online platforms. 

The e-Commerce Directive set vital ground rules for conduct and responsibility online, which helped online innovation thrive. Whether an individual is claiming defamation, a studio is claiming that a video infringes on copyright or a government is seeking to remove a terrorist video, it’s essential to provide clear notice about the specific piece of content to the online platform.  The platform then has a responsibility to take appropriate action on that content. This is especially important given the significant differences in what is considered illegal content across EU Member States. 

We are continually seeking to improve our technical systems and processes to identify illegal content. While breakthroughs in machine learning and other technology have significantly enhanced our ability to detect bad content, such technology is still unable to reliably understand context, which is often critical in determining whether or not content is legal, for example distinguishing violent content from a human rights organization documenting abuses. Mandated use of such technology would lead to overblocking of Europeans’ speech and access to information. This is why platforms should be encouraged to further invest in these innovations while retaining the invaluable nuance and judgment that comes with human input. 

Google's products are designed to encourage people to share their views safely and respectfully, and have been a force for creativity, learning and expression. In order to ensure that fundamental rights are respected, it's important for the DSA to focus on capturing illegal content, so lawful speech isn't caught in the net. However, this should not prevent further actions on lawful-but-harmful content, such as cyber-bullying, through self- and co-regulatory initiatives, such as the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation and the EU Code of Conduct on Hate Speech, both of which Google joined from the start. Google also invests in easy-to-use reporting processes and clear guidelines to help ensure a positive online experience.

We are committed to providing greater transparency for our users and governments so that they better understand the content they are seeing and how to notify us of concerns. The DSA should support these kinds of constructive transparency measures while ensuring that platforms can continue to protect user privacy, ensure commercially sensitive information is not revealed and prevent bad actors from gaming the system. Google has long been a leader in transparency, including disclosing data on content moderation, content removal requests and blocking bad ads.  


A more innovative internet

The e-Commerce Directive, which the DSA will update, has guided Internet services, users and European society through 20 years of economic growth fueled by innovation, including entirely new industries ranging from app developers to YouTube creators.  The next wave of online innovation will play a vital role in helping people, governments and businesses overcome the many challenges - medical, societal, economic - that come with a global pandemic.

To foster innovation, the DSA should reflect the wide range of services offered by the tech industry. No two services are the same and the new act should be rooted in objectives and principles that can be applied, as appropriate, across this broad, diverse ecosystem.  This will ensure that everyone - platforms regulators, people and businesses -  are responsible for the parts they play. 


A more helpful internet

People want to save time and get things done when they are online. Our testing has consistently shown that people want quick access to information, so over the years we’ve developed new ways to organize and display results. For example, when you are searching online for a restaurant, you can at the same time quickly access directions because a map has been integrated into Google’s Search results pages - saving you the time and effort of a second search through a map app or website. Integrations also help small businesses to be found more easily and to provide relevant information to their customers such as delivery, curbside pickup or takeaway options during lockdown periods, and can help people in times of emergency such as the Android Emergency location feature. New rules should encourage new and improved features and products which help European consumers get things done and access information quickly and easily.

Artboard 1@2x (1).jpg

European startups and entrepreneurs also need online tools to help grow their businesses more easily and at a lower cost. For example, online ads help businesses of all sizes find new customers around the world, while cloud computing helps reduce operating costs and increase productivity. As the Commission updates its regulations, it should ensure new rules don't add undue cost and burden for European businesses in ways that make it harder to scale quickly and offer their services across the EU and around the world.

We agree that competition between digital platforms is strengthened by measures that allow people to move between platforms without losing access to their data, which also makes it easier for new players to enter or expand in digital markets. Google offers a wide range of tools that allow people to be in control of their online experience, such as Google “My Account”, which helps users choose the privacy settings that are right for them, or Google Takeout, which allows users to export their data. Similarly, providing access to aggregated datasets could benefit R&D in a range of industries while safeguarding user data privacy. As new rules are being evaluated, the question is not whether data mobility or data access should be facilitated, but how to achieve their benefits without sacrificing product quality or innovation incentives. 


Modernizing regulation

Creating a more responsible, innovative and helpful internet is a societal challenge, and we acknowledge the need for companies, governments and civil society to work together towards reaching our shared goals. That’s why we support modernizing rules for the digital age. 

Our response today is committed to creating a balanced regulatory framework that can adapt to future technological innovations so we can build on the momentum and benefits that online services have provided European citizens and businesses over the past two decades.

An update on Fitbit

Last year, we announced that Google entered into an agreement to acquire Fitbit to help spur innovation in wearable devices and build products that help people lead healthier lives. As we continue to work with regulators to answer their questions, we wanted to share more about how we believe this deal will increase choice, and create engaging products and helpful experiences for consumers.

There's vibrant competition when it comes to smartwatches and fitness trackers, with Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fossil, Huawei, Xiaomi and many others offering numerous products at a range of prices. We don’t currently make or sell wearable devices like these today. We believe the combination of Google and Fitbit's hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector, making the next generation of devices better and more affordable. 

This deal is about devices, not data. We’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads. We recently offered to make a legally binding commitment to the European Commission regarding our use of Fitbit data. As we do with all our products, we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data. And we’ll continue to support wide connectivity and interoperability across our and other companies’ products. 

We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that addresses consumers' expectations of their wearable devices. We’re confident that by working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together our experience in AI, software and hardware, we can build compelling devices for people around the world.

This Googler is crocheting a royal dynasty

In recent months, many of us have been taking up eclectic new hobbies while stuck at home. But Danish Googler Christine Sørensen didn’t need social distancing to inspire her unusual passion project: She was already well on her way to crocheting all 54 monarchs in Denmark’s history. We spoke with her to learn what inspired her, and how it’s had some unexpected intersections with her day job.

Margrethe 1 - princess leia.jpg

Christine's first crochet project, Queen Margrethe I

What’s your role at Google?

I work in the Government Affairs team. I talk to politicians about how Google can contribute to the Danish economy and society with our innovations and ideas.

Where did you get the idea to crochet Danish monarchs?

One day, when I was visiting New York for business, I was in Chelsea Market and noticed a book teaching you how to crochet the Star Wars characters. I like Star Wars, so I got the book and started on Princess Leia. I also really like history, and as I was crocheting I realized that Leia looked a lot like Queen Margrethe I. I modified the dress, and there she was. And then I thought, we’ve had 54 kings and queens, why not do them all?

How far along are you now?

I started in 2017, but it wasn’t a priority. Then, at the end of the year, our queen made a speech that inspired me. Instead of always striving to accomplish something, she recommended doing something that wasn’t at all useful, something colorful. I thought, “That’s me!” and I really started in on the project.

Quuens birthday parade.jpg

Queen Margrethe II, the current queen of Denmark, giving a birthday speech to her assembled forerunners

It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn and think about the way our monarchy has evolved over a thousand years. It’s a story of hard power turning into soft power: In the year 1000, the monarch decided everything. They had all the power and the resources to enforce it. Now, monarchy is a very soft power—we send the queen to whatever country we’re trying to get a good trade deal with, for example.

I’ve done 27 of them now. Number 28  is King Christian X, who is portrayed on a horse. That played a very big symbolic role for the country: After the First World War, southern Denmark was finally reunited with the rest of the country, and he rode over the former border as a symbolic gesture. Then in World War II, when Denmark was occupied by the Germans, he rode his horse around Copenhagen every morning at 10:00 as a reminder of Danish sovereignty. I’ll have him ready by July 10th the 100th anniversary of the reunification of Denmark.

So before this you’d never crocheted anything?

No, I just taught myself from the Star Wars book. Since then, I’ve realized that there’s a major crochet community online, and people are very helpful whenever I ask questions. For example, right now I’m at great pains trying to figure out whether King Christian will be attached to his horse or not, and how to even make the horse in the first place, and I’m getting tons of very good advice.

Christine with Queen margrethe 2.jpg

Christine poses with her crocheted Queen Margrethe II

Chat with Helle Thorning.jpg

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Christine's crocheted Queen Margrethe I

Has this project had any unexpected effects on your work?

A lot of my job involves talking to journalists and politicians, and many of them will check in on how the crocheting is going—there’s always a nice conversation to be had if you’re stuck waiting around with someone. And then there are some unexpected similarities between certain monarchs and some of the politicians I meet with. For example, I brought together Denmark’s first woman prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and my crocheted Queen Margrethe I for a “chat” about what it was like to be the first woman in each of their roles.

What are your plans for your collection when you’re done?

My moonshot is to get an exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark—stay tuned! For now, I’m slowly building up a community on Instagram. I travel a lot all over Northern Europe for work—or at least I used to—which means not only do I have time to crochet while I’m on a plane, but I can also bring the kings and queens to the places associated with them. Harald Bluetooth can go to the city of Jelling, where he marked his introduction of Christianity with a massive runestone. Christian IV can go to Oslo, a city he founded. Valdemar the Victorious can go to Estonia, where the Danish flag miraculously appeared to him in the sky. 

Recently, when coronavirus spoiled further celebrations, Christian I held an anniversary speech at the Copenhagen University Ceremonial Hall, which he founded 541 years ago. But the kings and I can’t wait to go explore the realm (and the past) again.

Explore 250 years of the Royal Academy of Arts

London’s Royal Academy of Arts(RA) has been championing artists and architects for more than 250 years, and—pandemic or not—isn’t stopping now. Since its founding in 1769, the RA’s graduates have influenced culture in the UK and abroad through art practice, education, research and more. During this time of closed doors, the RA is inviting art fans around the world to walk their halls, explore their collection and delve into their stories on Google Arts & Culture.

The RA collection is a varied and unconventional treasure trove of British art, with works from luminaries like J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and Angelica Kauffman, through to contemporary masters like Lubaina Humid, Yinka Shonibare and Lynn Chadwick. Out of the 200+ worksnow available online, 20 have been captured in gigapixel resolution using our Art Camera technology, giving users the closest possible look at the details of each work.

At the ripe old age of 250, the RA underwent major renovations last year to extend and enhance their public offerings. The refreshed building was then captured from head to tail using Street View to enable art fans to explore the building and its galleries online for the first time.

Thirty stories illustrate the RA’s history, including a few lesser-known tales such as the feud between John Constable and JMW Turner. Self-guided tours of masterpieces mean you can explore at your own pace and virtually press your nose up to the canvas without raising a security guard’s ire. Take a walk through the building’s many halls, explore a sculpture installation, see the unusual props in the life drawing studio and walk from the grand Piccadilly entrance right through to the stately Burlington Gardens extension. 

As Axel Rüger, Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy, says, “Especially in times of crisis, art galleries and museums should be places of community that provide inspiration, escape, solace, fun and consolation. The Royal Academy of Arts has existed to do that since 1768. At a time when our doors are sadly closed, we are delighted to continue that cultural exchange online, through Google Arts & Culture.”

Visit g.co/MeetTheRA to explore, or download the free Google Arts & Culture app for iOS or Android.

Protecting Europe’s workers: The urgent need for skills

In recent years, new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics have helped companies increase efficiency and productivity and become more competitive on the global stage. But with these technological advances come challenges for governments and employers: in the short term, technology can fundamentally change the way people work, and in the long term it can displace some jobs altogether. With the additional upheaval of jobs markets as a result of the pandemic, it’s imperative that skills programs are targeted at those most at risk of displacement. 


Governments around the world, including the European Commission, are gearing up for these challenges and initiating programs to re-train their workforces. Over many years, Google has sought to play its part by building products that help European businesses grow and helping over seven million people all over Europe learn new digital skills. 

How will the future work?

We recently collaborated with the McKinsey Global Institute on new research looking at the impact of automation on jobs in almost 1,100 regional labor markets in Europe over the next ten years. The research estimates that, even accounting for expected job losses, Europe may still have a shortage of workers rather than a shortage of jobs in 2030. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the research suggested that the shortfall could be as high as 6 million workers, although that may now be lower. To put it another way, automation in Europe is not the threat to jobs that some people fear.

However, these opportunities are not spread equally across Europe, and there’s a clear gap between the requirements of these future jobs and the skills people currently have. Some jobs will be lost, and people will need new skills to succeed in new types of work. Alongside this, COVID-19 is also having a major impact, accelerating trends that we expected to see over a longer period of time. 

Unlike most prior research about the future of work, which was conducted at a national level, this report puts regions front and centre. Towns like Mannheim and Montpellier, or Dobrich and Douro, are more similar to each other than they are to the rest of their own countries, when it comes to the impact of automation. You can see those similarities clearly in this interactive map that we launched today. 

Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 21.04.06.png

The map is a companion to the McKinsey Global Institute report, showing the types of jobs that will be growing and declining across Europe’s diverse regions over the next ten years. It’s also a clear illustration of the importance of tailoring skills and training programs to the needs and opportunities of individual European regions, sectors and communities.

What’s next? 

That’s certainly been our experience: we’ve seen that training is only successful if you open it up to everyone, and especially to those most at risk of job displacement, who too often don’t have the opportunity or means to learn new skills, and may live in lower-growth regions. That’s why we’ve developed partnerships with experts to help reach underserved groups, including working with organisations toreach trade unions and workers in the transport and logistics sector, developing programs to helpwomen build confidence in their leadership skills, and funding nonprofits to provide critical services forunderserved small businesses.

The jobs market turmoil caused by the pandemic has made reskilling even more urgent. During the first few weeks of lockdown, we saw a 300 percent increase in the number of people taking our free Grow with Google training courses. Significantly, McKinsey Global Institute conducted its research shortly before the COVID-19 crisis began, but analysis of more recent data shows a significant overlap between the jobs at risk in the next ten years and those at risk now

Every day, we work with European entrepreneurs and businesses to help them grow. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve increased our support by providing funding, tools and programs to help workers and businesses recover faster from the crisis, and help people stay safe, informed and connected. Along with increasing private investment from companies like ours, we call on governments to create the right environments to help citizens learn the skills that are required for the jobs of the future. It’s up to all of us—governments, companies and citizens—to make sure all European regions thrive and the benefits of automation reach everyone.

============

Below are some of the key findings from the research and you can read McKinsey’s full report here.

Reskilling is paramount  

  • More than 90 million workers may need to develop significant new skills within their current roles, while up to 21 million may have to leave declining occupations.
  • Automation will affect sectors and occupations differently, with office work, manufacturing, agriculture and construction presenting some of the highest displacement rates. 
  • Europe may still have a shortage of workers rather than a shortage of jobs in 2030, with growth predicted in healthcare, STEM-related sectors and creative and arts industries. So while tech aptitude is an asset, it’s not everything: Europeans will spend 30 percent more time doing work related to social and emotional skills. 

The impact on labour markets will vary across countries and regions 

  • Our research revealed 13 types of regional clusters across Europe. From superstar hubs that drive change and attract worldwide talent to regions supported by public investment, these profiles reveal the continent in a new light. 
  • High-tech jobs will be a major growth area: jobs in science and engineering will grow by 40 percent in megacities like London and Paris, 35 percent in superstar hubs like Geneva and Stockholm, and 30 percent in service-based economies like Manchester and Budapest. 
  • Even before the crisis, remote work has grown steadily since 2007: around 19 percent of German and 14 percent of French workers sometimes or usually work from home. However, this growth has been concentrated in urban areas, and not in the declining regions that don’t have enough jobs.

Read the full report on McKinsey’s site here and visit our interactive map. Google wants to play its part to accelerate Europe's economic recovery through our technology, tools and training and help all Europeans benefit from long term technological advances.


Responding to the European Commission’s AI white paper

In January, our CEO Sundar Pichai visited Brussels to talk about artificial intelligence and how Google could help people and businesses succeed in the digital age through partnership. Much has changed since then due to COVID-19, but one thing hasn’t—our commitment to the potential of partnership with Europe on AI, especially to tackle the pandemic and help people and the economy recover. 

As part of that effort, we earlier today filed our response to the European Commission’s Consultation on Artificial Intelligence, giving our feedback on the Commission’s initial proposal for how to regulate and accelerate the adoption of AI. 

Excellence, skills, trust

Our filing applauds the Commission’s focus on building out the European “ecosystem of excellence.” European universities already boast renowned leaders in dozens of areas of AI research—Google partners with some of them via our machine learning research hubs in Zurich, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and London—and many of their students go on to make important contributions to European businesses.  

We support the Commission’s plans to help businesses develop the AI skills they need to thrive in the new digital economy. Next month, we’ll contribute to those efforts by extending our machine learning check-up tool to 11 European countries to help small businesses implement AI and grow their businesses. Google Cloud already works closely with scores of businesses across Europe to help them innovate using AI.  

We also support the Commission’s goal of building a framework for AI innovation that will create trust and guide ethical development and use of this widely applicable technology. We appreciate the Commission's proportionate, risk-based approach. It’s important that AI applications in sensitive fields—such as medicine or transportation—are held to the appropriate standards. 

Based on our experience working with AI, we also offered a couple of suggestions for making future regulation more effective. We want to be a helpful and engaged partner to policymakers, and we have provided more details in our formal response to the consultation.

Definition of high-risk AI applications

AI has a broad range of current and future applications, including some that involve significant benefits and risks.  We think any future regulation would benefit from a more carefully nuanced definition of “high-risk” applications of AI. We agree that some uses warrant extra scrutiny and safeguards to address genuine and complex challenges around safety, fairness, explainability, accountability, and human interactions. 

Assessment of AI applications

When thinking about how to assess high-risk AI applications, it's important to strike a balance. While AI won’t always be perfect, it has great potential to help us improve over the performance of existing systems and processes. But the development process for AI must give people confidence that the AI system they’re using is reliable and safe. That’s especially true for applications like new medical diagnostic techniques, which potentially allow skilled medical practitioners to offer more accurate diagnoses, earlier interventions, and better patient outcomes. But the requirements need to be proportionate to the risk, and shouldn’t unduly limit innovation, adoption, and impact. 

This is not an easy needle to thread. The Commission’s proposal suggests “ex ante” assessment of AI applications (i.e., upfront assessment, based on forecasted rather than actual use cases). Our contribution recommends having established due diligence and regulatory review processes expand to include the assessment of AI applications. This would avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and likely speed up implementation.

For the (probably) rare instances when high-risk applications of AI are not obviously covered by existing regulations, we would encourage clear guidance on the “due diligence” criteria companies should use in their development processes. This would enable robust upfront self-assessment and documentation of any risks and their mitigations, and could also include further scrutiny after launch.

This approach would give European citizens confidence about the trustworthiness of AI applications, while also fostering innovation across the region. And it would encourage companies—especially smaller ones—to launch a range of valuable new services. 

Principles and process

Responsible development of AI presents new challenges and critical questions for all of us. In 2018 we published our own AI Principles to help guide our ethical development and use of AI, and also established internal review processes to help us avoid bias, test rigorously for safety, design with privacy top of mind.  Our principles also specify areas where we will not design or deploy AI, such as to support mass surveillance or violate human rights. Look out for an update on our work around these principles in the coming weeks. 

AI is an important part of Google’s business and our aspirations for the future. We share a common goal with policymakers—a desire to build trust in AI through responsible innovation and thoughtful regulation, so that European citizens can safely enjoy the full social and economic benefits of AI. We hope that our contribution to the consultation is useful, and we look forward to participating in the discussion in coming months.

How AI could predict sight-threatening eye conditions

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK and USA and is the third largest cause of blindness across the globe. The latest research collaboration between Google Health, DeepMind and Moorfields Eye Hospital is published in Nature Medicine today. It shows that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to not only spot the presence of AMD in scans, but also predict the disease’s progression. 

Vision loss and wet AMD

Around 75 percent of patients with AMD have an early form called “dry” AMD that usually has relatively mild impact on vision. A minority of patients, however, develop the more sight-threatening form of AMD called exudative, or “wet” AMD. This condition affects around 15 percent of patients, and occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop underneath the retina. These vessels can leak fluid, which can cause permanent loss of central vision if not treated early enough.

Macular degeneration mainly affects central vision, causing "blind spots" directly ahead

Macular degeneration mainly affects central vision, causing "blind spots" directly ahead (Macular Society).

Wet AMD often affects one eye first, so patients become heavily reliant upon their unaffected eye to maintain their normal day-to-day living. Unfortunately, 20 percent of these patientswill go on to develop wet AMD in their other eye within two years. The condition often develops suddenly but further vision loss can be slowed with treatments if wet AMD is recognized early enough. Ophthalmologists regularly monitor their patients for signs of wet AMD using 3D optical coherence tomography (OCT) images of the retina.

The period before wet AMD develops is a critical window for preventive treatment, which is why we set out to build a system that could predict whether a patient with wet AMD in one eye will go on to develop the condition in their second eye. This is a novel clinical challenge, since it’s not a task that is routinely performed.

How AI could predict the development of wet AMD

In collaboration with colleagues at DeepMind and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, we’ve developed an artificial intelligence (AI) model that has the potential to predict whether a patient will develop wet AMD within six months. In the future, this system could potentially help doctors plan studies of earlier intervention, as well as contribute more broadly to clinical understanding of the disease and disease progression. 

We trained and tested our model using a retrospective, anonymized dataset of 2,795 patients. These patients had been diagnosed with wet AMD in one of their eyes, and were attending one of seven clinical sites for regular OCT imaging and treatment. For each patient, our researchers worked with retinal experts to review all prior scans for each eye and determine the scan when wet AMD was first evident. In collaboration with our colleagues at DeepMind we developed an AI system composed of two deep convolutional neural networks, one taking the raw 3D scan as input and the other, built on our previous work, taking a segmentation map outlining the types of tissue present in the retina. Our prediction system used the raw scan and tissue segmentations to estimate a patient’s risk of progressing to wet AMD within the next six months. 

To test the system, we presented the model with a single, de-identified scan and asked it to predict whether there were any signs that indicated the patient would develop wet AMD in the following six months. We also asked six clinical experts—three retinal specialists and three optometrists, each with at least ten years’ experience—to do the same. Predicting the possibility of a patient developing wet AMD is not a task that is usually performed in clinical practice so this is the first time, to our knowledge, that experts have been assessed on this ability. 

While clinical experts performed better than chance alone, there was substantial variability between their assessments. Our system performed as well as, and in certain cases better than, these clinicians in predicting wet AMD progression. This highlights its potential use for informing studies in the future to assess or help develop treatments to prevent wet AMD progression.

Future work could address several limitations of our research. The sample was representative of practice at multiple sites of the world’s largest eye hospital, but more work is needed to understand the model performance in different demographics and clinical settings. Such work should also understand the impact of unstudied factors—such as additional imaging tests—that might be important for prediction, but were beyond the scope of this work.

What’s next 

These findings demonstrate the potential for AI to help improve understanding of disease progression and predict the future risk of patients developing sight-threatening conditions. This, in turn, could help doctors study preventive treatments.

This is the latest stage in our partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, a long-standing relationship that transitioned from DeepMind to Google Health in September 2019. Our previous collaborations include using AI to quickly detect eye conditions, and showing how Google Cloud AutoML might eventually help clinicians without prior technical experience to accurately detect common diseases from medical images. 

This is early research, rather than a product that could be implemented in routine clinical practice. Any future product would need to go through rigorous prospective clinical trials and regulatory approvals before it could be used as a tool for doctors. This work joins a growing body of research in the area of developing predictive models that could inform clinical research and trials. In line with this, Moorfields will be making the dataset available through the Ryan Initiative for Macular Research. We hope that models like ours will be able to support this area of work to improve patient outcomes.