Tag Archives: Innovation & Technology

Seeking news innovators in the Middle East, Turkey & Africa

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From Kenya to Lebanon, innovation lies at the heart of the many news organizations across the Middle East, Turkey and Africa where we are today inviting applications for the Innovation Challenges program.

As part of our ongoing commitment to support the news industry around the world, we are launching our third Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge in the region. Funding up to $150,000 is available via this open call for any digital innovative project and all news providers are eligible, regardless of size.

The program has been running in the region since 2019 and the first two rounds saw 43 projects selected from 18 countries. Those recipients answered a call for projects which would increase reader engagement and/or explore new business models. The ideas ranged from novel membership strategies to Arabic language search tools.

Successful past recipients include those featured in the videos on this blogpost as well as:

  • Eco-Nai+ from Ripples in Nigeria is the first digital geojournalism platform for the country. Geojournalism is a form of data journalism which takes information from users, authoritative sources such as Google Earth, meteorological agencies and others, to cover issues tied to the question of climate change.
  • Diaspora par TelQuel from TelQuel Digital in Morocco is a diaspora subscription platform for Morrocans of the world, publishing original content, practical guides, and history articles for audiences viewing abroad: mainly France (35%), Canada (9%) and Belgium (8%).
  • My Town, My News from ynet in Israel is a newsroom tool which helps journalists create multiple hyperlocal stories individualized to specific locations across the country to provide statistical information such as COVID-19 rates or vaccination figures.

You can find out more about all the previous recipients on the website.

How to apply

Applications are open from now until Tuesday, April 5 2022. Established publishers, online-only players, news startups, publisher consortia, freelancers, press agencies, broadcasters and local industry associations are all eligible to apply.

Projects will be evaluated against five criteria: innovation, impact on news ecosystem, diversity, equity and inclusion; inspiration; and feasibility. The range of projects could be varied — we are intentionally not being prescriptive and instead welcome your boldest ideas. This could be anything from using Artificial Intelligence in the newsroom to diversifying your business model or figuring out ways to increase audience engagement or even reach new audiences. Whatever it is, we want to hear your sharpest solutions to the challenges faced on the ground.

The selected projects will be eligible to receive up to $150,000, not to exceed 70% of the total project cost. Please note that Google does not take any equity or intellectual property rights in any projects or submissions.

Applications must be made online via our website and are open until Tuesday, April 5 2022 at 23:59 GMT. As part of the application process, applicants are required to produce an explanatory slidedeck (please note the link opens a page to make your own copy to work in). We will also be holding an online town hall on Tuesday, March 8 at 10am GMT with a live presentation and the opportunity to ask questions.

We are looking forward to seeing fresh ideas come out of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, a region rich with talent, potential and opportunity. For more information about the challenge, visit g.co/newsinnovation.

Celebrating Black women founders working in STEM

As a woman fintech founder in London in the early 2010s, I felt like an anomaly: The intersection of science, tech and finance didn’t necessarily attract the most gender-diverse talent. Ten years later, there’s still work to be done. As a well-educated white woman — albeit an immigrant — I shouldn’t stand out in the tech industry, but still only2.3% of all global venture capital goes to women-led companies.

Change won’t be meaningful if it doesn’t impact all women. Women of color are among the most talented founders I’ve met, and yet data shows they are disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to securing investors and support. By creating opportunities for everyone, initiatives like the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund are closing the tech and science equality gap.

ThisInternational Day of Women and Girls in Science, meet six women Black Founders Fund recipients from around the world who are paving the way in STEM and the startup ecosystem.

The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund provides cash awards — without giving up equity in return — and hands-on support to help Black entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses. Learn more about the 200+ recipients from around the world.

Celebrating Black women founders working in STEM

As a woman fintech founder in London in the early 2010s, I felt like an anomaly: The intersection of science, tech and finance didn’t necessarily attract the most gender-diverse talent. Ten years later, there’s still work to be done. As a well-educated white woman — albeit an immigrant — I shouldn’t stand out in the tech industry, but still only2.3% of all global venture capital goes to women-led companies.

Change won’t be meaningful if it doesn’t impact all women. Women of color are among the most talented founders I’ve met, and yet data shows they are disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to securing investors and support. By creating opportunities for everyone, initiatives like the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund are closing the tech and science equality gap.

ThisInternational Day of Women and Girls in Science, meet six women Black Founders Fund recipients from around the world who are paving the way in STEM and the startup ecosystem.

The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund provides cash awards — without giving up equity in return — and hands-on support to help Black entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses. Learn more about the 200+ recipients from around the world.

The James Webb Space Telescope in your living room

On December 22, the world’s biggest and most powerful space science telescope will launch from Kourou, French Guiana, providing an unprecedented glimpse of our universe. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies, will study every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to distant galaxies in the early universe. As an infrared telescope — using infrared light to detect celestial bodies — Webb’s scientific explorations will help us better understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.

After launch, the telescope will unfold into its final shape. This process takes about two weeks. By a month after launch, the telescope will reach its extra-terrestrial destination a million miles from Earth. The telescope must then cool down in the shade of its sunshield, down to its cryogenic operating temperatures, under 50 Kelvin (-370 °F). The mirrors will be precisely aligned and the instruments calibrated. Approximately six months after launch, we’ll be ready for the telescope to capture images of space that we’ve never seen before.

According to Mike Menzel, lead NASA mission systems engineer for the telescope, “Webb is a first-and one-of-its-kind space telescope designed to detect the first galaxies that formed in our universe, observe how galaxies evolve over cosmic time, study the formation of stars and solar systems, and perform detailed observations of planets around other stars. It has been my privilege to be part of this team for the last 24 years. It is my sincere hope that I can someday say that I worked on the space telescope that detected the first-light galaxies, or detected the building blocks of life on a planet around another star. It is also my hope and expectation that this world-class facility will detect some cosmic phenomenon that is totally new and unexpected, which opens up a whole new field of astronomical research. If past history of space observatories, such as Hubble, are anything to go by, there is a very, very good chance of this.”

We hope you follow along on NASA’s Google Arts & Culture page, where we’ll be periodically sharing new stories and images from the telescope’s discoveries. And until then… check out 10 things to know about the James Webb Space Telescope and enjoy the 3D model!

Paws meet machine learning with Pet Portraits

According to John Steinbeck, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”

Perhaps Steinbeck’s dogs would have really thought we were nuts back in 2018 when people around the world used Art Selfie to search for their doppelgängers from across art history — with over 120 million selfies taken so far.

But now, pets can get in on the fun too! Today we are introducing Pet Portraits, a way for your dog, cat, fish, bird, reptile, horse, or rabbit to discover their very own art doubles among tens of thousands of works from partner institutions around the world. Your animal companion could be matched with ancient Egyptian figurines, vibrant Mexican street art, serene Chinese watercolors, and more. Just open the rainbow camera tab in the free Google Arts & Culture app for Android and iOS to get started and find out if your pet’s look-alikes are as fun as some of our favorite animal companions and their matches:

When you take a photo in Pet Portraits, our trained computer vision algorithm recognizes where your pet is, crops the image and puts them where they belong: front and center. Once that is done, a machine learning algorithm matches your pet’s photo with over tens of thousands of artworks from our partners’ outstanding collections to find the ones that look most similar. Now it’s time for them to enter the spotlight: Share your pet’s #PetPortraits as a single still image or select multiple images to animate together as a GIF slideshow.

Additionally, Pet Portraits invites you to tap on your result to learn about the stories and artists behind each artwork. Keep on exploring Google Arts & Culture and discover more about our pawed, winged, and hooved friends throughout history. Get to know the 10 coolest cats or dogs of art history, dive into wonders of the natural world, or find out more about fantastic beasts in fiction and nature.

Ready to find your pet in art? Open up the free Google Arts & Culture app for Android or iOS and tap the rainbow camera button at the bottom of the page. Discover and share your most paw-fect #PetPortraits and don’t forget to tag us @googleartsculture on Instagram or @googlearts on Twitter! ?

How machine learning revived long lost masterpieces by Klimt

Few artists enjoy such worldwide fame as Gustav Klimt. The new Google Arts & Culture online retrospective "Klimt vs. Klimt - The Man of Contradictions" puts the spotlight on the artist's eclectic work and life. A Machine Learning experiment recolored photographs of lost Klimt paintings, while a “Pocket Gallery” brings some of his most iconic works into your living room in augmented reality and 3D. Together with more than 120 stories about his art and personality, a virtual tour of his studio, and many more highlights from the collections of over 30 cultural institutions around the world, "Klimt vs. Klimt" forms one of the most comprehensive online experiences about the artist.

Klimt’s legacy poses many unsolved questions, not least due to the fact that approximately 20% of his artworks were lost over the course of history. Among the most prominent and painful losses are the so-called Faculty Paintings, created on behalf of the University of Vienna and rejected by the latter for being overly critical towards science. In 1945, only days before the Second World War ended, the paintings were lost to a fire at Immendorf Castle in Austria. What these major works looked like could only be guessed at from black and white photographs taken in the early 1900s, unable were they to convey the magic that makes Klimt’s artworks so captivating — the bold colours, the revolutionary approach to textures, the shocking directness of his figures. Until today.

Using the opportunities offered by machine learning, enhanced by the knowledge of internationally renowned Klimt expert and curator at the Belvedere, Dr. Franz Smola, the team at the Google Arts & Culture Lab was able to reconstruct the colours that Klimt might have used for the Faculty Paintings, thus restoring them to their fully colored beauty. For the first time in 70 years, people can experience his artworks in the colors he might have used.

Experience the art of Klimt in new ways online

The paintings are the true centerpiece of “Klimt vs. Klimt”. The retrospective brings together more than 120 of the artist’s most famous masterpieces, as well as lesser known works, and assembles an expertly curated selection in an immersive Pocket Gallery that you can experience in augmented reality on mobile or in 3D on web. This was made possible thanks to a collaboration between Google Arts & Culture and over 30 partners and institutions - with the Belvedere, the Albertina, the Klimt Foundation, the Neue Galerie New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Arts among them. Over 60 masterworks by Klimt have also been captured in ultra high resolution with Google’s Art Camera. Come in closer to see “The Kiss” like never before!

Klimt expert Dr. Franz Smola

Meet the expert — Dr. Franz Smola

While creating “Klimt vs. Klimt” the Google Arts & Culture team was advised and guided by Dr. Franz Smola, curator at the Belvedere and acknowledged around the world as one of the foremost Klimt experts. He shared some of his thoughts on working on the project:

Why are Klimt’s Faculty Paintings so important?

Klimt´s three Faculty Paintings were among the largest artworks Klimt ever created and in the field of Symbolist painting they represent Klimt’s masterpieces.

What do you think about the recolored versions?

The colors were essential for the overwhelming effect of these paintings, and they caused quite a stir among Klimt´s contemporaries. Therefore the reconstruction of the colors is synonymous with recognizing the true value and significance of these outstanding artworks.

Is there something the digital presentation adds to how Klimt and his artworks can be perceived?

I am deeply impressed by the fantastic images taken with Google’s Art Camera. They allow you to really explore a work of art, to jump into its texture and color application and to discover every detail in the easiest way possible. I also like how technology allows ideas to come to life that have always been merely hypothetical — I am thinking of the Pocket Gallery we created, which contains a highlight selection of Klimt’s paintings including some of which were lost.

If Klimt was still alive - how do you think he would engage with digital technologies?

Klimt was a highly visual figure. He rarely commented on his work, rather inviting people to look at the work alone and draw their own conclusions. The “Klimt vs. Klimt” project primarily uses visual, non-verbal tools to convey Klimt’s work, which is very much in line with Klimt’s character. Klimt liked to lead a rather secluded life within the walls of his studio, to which only a few had access. I am certain he would have liked the idea of jumping from this remote and quiet place into the World Wide Web, having access to millions of artworks and seeing his art distributed and communicated around the world.

To explore “Klimt vs. Klimt - The Man of Contradictions” visit g.co/klimtvsklimt or download the free Google Arts & Culture app for iOS or Android.

A new dimension for cultural artifacts

At Google Arts & Culture we are always looking for ways to help people understand and learn about culture in new and engaging ways. Starting today, we are launching a new feature through which our 2,000 plus cultural partner institutions can create guided 3D tours about buildings, sculptures, furniture, and more from their collections. With the help of 3D Tours you can easily whiz around historic sites, monuments and places of interest while learning about their hidden details and historical backgrounds - all courtesy of 3D data from Google Earth.

So how about a personal guided tour through Tokyo’s tallest towers, Florence’s beautiful basilicas or South Africa’s historical halls? These and 16 other 3D Tours make use of ModelViewer —  a tool through which interactive 3D models can easily be displayed on the web and in augmented reality. Not only will you be able to navigate smoothly to each stop of the tour but objects along the way can also be viewed in AR. So while you explore the heights of Tokyo Tower, you can discover its historic inspiration in your own home.

Take a tour of Florence’s Basilica of Santa Croces

Take a tour of Florence’s Basilica of Santa Croces

Climb into a famous artwork

Another way we are bringing art and culture to life is through Art Filter, a feature in the Google Arts & Culture camera tab that applies machine learning and augmented reality to turn you into a masterpiece. Today we have added five new artworks and artifacts to Art Filter for you to immerse yourself in. For example, become the Roman god of seasons as Arcimboldo’s Vertumnus, or cast a stony glare through the head of Medusa. 

How does it work?

Art Filter’s machine learning-based image processing positions the artifacts organically and smoothly on your head, or reacts to your facial expressions to make the filters as realistic as possible. What’s more, you can learn about each artwork from the fun facts that appear before the effect is applied. 

We hope these 3D tours and new filter options will help you explore the hidden details of these historic artifacts and feel connected to cultural heritage around the world.  

Find the tours on the Google Arts & Culture site or app. Art Filter is available in the Camera Tab of the free Google Arts & Culture app for Android and iOS.

A whale of a tale about responsibility and AI

A couple of years ago, Google AI for Social Good’s Bioacoustics team created a ML model that helps the scientific community detect the presence of humpback whale sounds using acoustic recordings. This tool, developed in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, helps biologists study whale behaviors, patterns, population and potential human interactions. 

We realized other researchers could use this model for their work, too — it could help them better understand the oceans and protect key biodiversity areas. We wanted to freely share this model, but  struggled with a big dilemma: On one hand, it could help ocean scientists. On the other, though, we worried about whale poachers or other bad actors. What if they used our shared knowledge in a way we didn’t intend? 

We decided to consult with experts in the field in order to help us responsibly open source this machine learning model. We worked with Google's Responsible Innovation team to use our AI Principles — a guide to responsibly developing technology — to make a decision.

The team gave us the guidance we needed to open source a machine learning model that could be socially beneficial and was built and tested for safety, while also upholding high standards of scientific excellence for the marine biologists and researchers worldwide. 

On Earth Day — and every day — putting the AI Principles into practice is important to the communities we serve, on land and in the sea. 

Curious about diving deeper? You can use AI to explore thousands of hours of humpback whale songs and make your own discoveries with our Pattern Radio and see our collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association of the United States as well as our work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to apply machine learning to protect killer whales in the Salish Sea.

How we built a new tool without ever meeting in person

A little over a year ago, a group of us within Area 120, Google’s internal incubator, wanted to explore whether recorded video could help remote teams work better. Little did we know at the time that COVID-19 would soon send us all home, and we'd actually have to build the product remotely as well. That project became Threadit, short video recordings to share your work and connect with your team. 

Once we had a working  prototype, we started using Threadit to take back control of our working hours. Threadit, available from your browser or as a Chrome extension, helps you say and show more with a video message than with an email or chat. We use Threadit to show each other our progress, ask questions or request feedback without needing to coordinate schedules. This helps us reduce unnecessary meetings while still becoming a tighter-knit team. We have more time to think and do focused work, and the meetings we keep are more effective and easier to schedule for everyone. 

Today, Threadit is available to anyone who wants to try it. 

Threadit screenshots

Record yourself and your screen

To use Threadit, simply speak straight to the camera or share your screen; if you don’t like how it sounded, just hit record and try it again. Record as many short clips as you’d like, and Threadit will stitch them all together into one cohesive video message. When you’re done, send it off to your team. Anyone can reply with their own video message when they’re ready — it’s all part of one conversation.
Threadit screenshots

We know Threadit works because we used it ourselves. Our team has still never met in person. Instead of team whiteboarding sessions or quick updates around someone’s desk, we had to juggle work and family schedules. This meant more virtual meetings and lengthy text exchanges just to stay on the same page.

Show up how you want, when you want

People from all over the world helped us build Threadit, so using the tool became a great way to see one another without having to schedule live meetings across time zones. I’d send a Threadit to my colleagues in Japan during my normal working hours in Seattle; they’d respond during the hours that worked for them in Tokyo. Threadit helped us feel like we were working together in person, even though we were responding at different times from across the world — it built connections that email couldn’t. The best part? Nobody had to get up early or stay up late.

This became our new norm, whether with teammates in Tokyo or in their homes just down the street. I could record replies around putting my son down for a nap or cooking dinner, and review what I said so I came across how I wanted. Threadit gave us an opportunity to hear from everyone on our team, not just the loudest voices in a live meeting. We had more control over our time and could contribute when we were each ready.

Threadit screenshots

How will you use Threadit? 

Since we started, we’ve seen teams use Threadit in different ways, from sharing sales presentations to recording product tutorials to sending leadership updates. We even started using Threadit as a way of celebrating team birthdays! 

Because we all have enough productivity tools to manage as is, we built Threadit to work the way you do. Access Threadit directly from your web browser or mobile device. If you get our Chrome extension, you can record yourself and anything on your screen at any time, even from within Gmail. Send a Threadit to anyone by simply sharing the link — no  download necessary. 

Threadit screenshots

We’re excited for you to see how Threadit can help your team. Get started at threadit.area120.com.  

17,572 singers, in perfect harmony (from their own homes)

When you think of a choir, you likely put a descriptor before it: a school choir, a church choir, a community choir. Singing in a chorus usually means you’re standing within a large group of people, belting out songs and nailing those harmonies together. But what happens when you can’t gather in person to sing? 

That’s where virtual choirs come in. Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has been putting them together for more than a decade, long before the pandemic left us stuck at home—and his most recent collaboration, which debuted on YouTube July 19, is his biggest project yet. 

Whitacre started organizing Virtual Choirs in 2009, when a fan uploaded a video of herself singing one of his choral compositions. He saw the video, then asked others to record themselves singing the other parts of the same composition to form a “choir.” That first group featured 185 singers, and each one since has grown larger and larger, to more than 8,000 voices for the fifth performance in 2018.

Eric Whitacre Credit Marc Royce.jpg

Eric Whitacre (Photo by Marc Royce)

This year, signups for Virtual Choir have skyrocketed. More than 17,000 singers from around the world found a way to participate in the sixth recording from the isolation of their own homes. They all learned “Sing Gently,” a song Whitacre composed during the pandemic. “Even early on, you’d be walking down the street in masks and you’d go out of your way to not pass someone,” Whitacre says. “A random stranger would become a threat. That was hard to see, and I was feeling that all over.” So the lyrics to “Sing Gently” encourage people to “live with compassion and empathy, and do this together,” he says. 

The Virtual Choir team uses every video submitted, unless there’s a technical problem with the recording. That means there are thousands of videos to sync together, and thousands of sound recordings to edit so the result sounds seamless. This time around, the team featured three sound editors, six people reviewing each submission and two executive producers; the team was scattered through the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa. Across three different continents, they used Google Docs and Google Sheets to keep track of their progress, Google’s webmaster tools to manage thousands of email addresses and Google Translate to keep in touch with singers around the world. Singers checked the choir’s YouTube channels for rehearsal videos, footage of Whitacre conducting the song and Q&As with other singers and composers.

Sing Gently.jpeg

The video for "Sing Gently" features the song's lyrics and footage of the singers, who recorded from their homes.

It was also significant that these singers came together (figuratively speaking) at a time when musicians are suddenly out of work. “It’s an especially surreal moment for singers, because we’ve been labeled as superspreaders,” Whitacre laments, referring to a term for people who spread the disease more than others; in one instance, dozens of singers in Washington state were infected after a choir practice.  “Even just the act of singing is dangerous for other people.” He says he was struck by the number of participants who told him it felt good to sing with others again—even though they weren’t actually performing in the same room. 

Molly Jenkins, a choir lover based in North Carolina, was one of the 6,262 sopranos who took part in “Sing Gently.” She had always wanted to join a virtual choir, but never found the perfect time to give it a try. But since there’s no such thing as a perfect moment in a pandemic, she decided to figure out a way to make it work. 

This, I think, is the best of the promise of the Internet. Eric Whitacre
composer and conductor

With her phone in hand to hear the guide tracks, Molly practiced whenever and wherever she could: in the shower, at the kitchen table while working from home, in her front yard and while burping her baby. When it came time to record her track, there was one problem: finding a quiet place to record. “There was no space to record where a shrieking, gurgling baby wouldn’t interrupt the take,” she says. 

She ended up in her car on a rainy day, playing the conductor track on her laptop and recording her vocals on her phone. Sound engineers were able to isolate her vocal track from the background noise of the rain tapping on her windshield. “I’m just so glad I went for it,” Molly says.

Whitacre says that improvisational spirit is key to creating his choirs, and he’s grateful that technology can enable great collaborations despite social distancing. “It really speaks to the best of technology,” he says. “This, I think, is the best of the promise of the Internet.”