Tag Archives: Next Billion Users

Raising our India commitment to build a safer internet for everyone

At Google, safety is core to everything we do. We design our products to ensure that they are secure by default and private by design, and you’re in control of your information. We are privileged that hundreds of millions of Indians place their trust in Google products. 


In India, we have been working towards making the internet helpful for over a billion people through a deeper understanding of our users’ needs under our Next Billion Users initiative, and launching many India-first features and products. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the internet's role in our everyday lives has become all the more central. With more and more Indians turning to the internet for their day-to-day needs, we recognise our responsibility to ensure that they’re protected from an evolving range of online risks — from phishing to financial fraud to misinformation. We also know that new users in particular are vulnerable to threats from bad actors.   


Today, we are underlining our commitment to protect users against this multidimensional challenge — and make the internet safer for everyone. 


Ramping up our trust & safety efforts in India 


To protect our users and products at the scale at which we operate, everyday 24x7, we continuously invest in both people and technology to make the internet safer. With over 20,000 people spread across the world, our Trust and Safety teams are dedicated to identifying, fighting, and preventing online harms. This includes everything from researching emerging abuse trends, to developing policies and standards that make clear what is acceptable on our platforms, to building the technology that enables enforcement of those policies at scale, including compliance with local laws and regulations in every country we operate in. Just in the last year, we’ve invested over $1 billion on our content moderation systems and processes, and we continue to invest in this area. 


In India, we have significantly increased the resources dedicated to these teams, adding product policy analysts, security specialists, and user trust experts, and expanded our efforts to provide coverage in more than 10 vernacular Indian languages, enabling our central teams to benefit from the local nuance and inputs.  This increased focus will help us to tackle misinformation, fraud, threats to child safety, violent extremism, phishing attacks, and malware, among other abuse areas.


A collaborative approach for a safer internet 


We recognise that the work of building a safer internet needs the leadership of the larger internet industry that is driving India’s digital economy. These challenges cannot be overcome by one or two players alone, and there is a need to step up our collective efforts as an industry. We are committed to sharing our tools and the institutional knowledge and capabilities we’ve developed over the years to contribute to this joint responsibility. We will be working with leading industry organisations to help train developers and startups in these capabilities, build communal solutions to shared safety challenges, and innovate on open-source tools so we can better protect Indians online.


Investing in user awareness and education in Indian languages


We also know that safety information helps people understand and avoid online harm. The Google Safety Centre serves as a single destination dedicated to educating and empowering our users on the importance of digital safety. As many people in India use the internet in their regional language, we are launching the new and updated Google Safety Centre in eight languages starting with Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu, with three more Indian languages set to roll out by the end of the year. 

On this platform, users can discover helpful resources and easy tips, and identify the digital habits that are right for them and their families, all in the language of their choice. With the ‘My Activity’ hub in the Safety Centre, they can review, control, or delete the activity saved to their Google accounts. This section received more than 1 billion visits by Indian users in the first half of 2021 alone, and we hope this refreshed Safety Center will help millions more.


As part of this effort, we’ve also launched a user education campaign in multiple languages, to bring attention to common threats like phishing, malware, and fraud.



Raising our commitment to ensure children’s safety online


While our policies don’t allow kids under 13 to create a standard Google account, we’ve worked hard to design enriching product experiences for them — as well as for older teens and their families. We are aware that kids and teens are spending more time online, and parents, educators, child safety and privacy experts, and policy makers are rightfully concerned about how to keep them safe. We share these concerns and we have announced a series of new policies in response.

We are also committed to matching these efforts with digital safety resources for parents and children. So starting today, we are excited to launch our global Be Internet Awesome program in India, a resource that is designed and crafted by digital safety experts to help children, families, and educators learn about staying safe online. Available in English and Hindi first, then soon in other Indian languages, Be Internet Awesome is a great resource for kids, parents, and teachers to learn about safe and healthy internet habits.


It includes a highly visual, interactive experience called ‘Interland’, where children can learn the fundamentals of online safety and participate in a series of fun, challenging games. They’ll learn how to safeguard valuable information, one-up cyber bullies, and spot what’s real and what’s fake. We’re also keen for children to explore Be Internet Awesome through avenues they’re already familiar with, and so we are delighted to announce our partnership with popular Indian comic book publishers, Amar Chitra Katha, who will help kids discover these critical internet safety lessons through their favourite characters, in eight Indian languages.


A safer and trusted app experience for our users


Affordable smartphones can unlock online opportunities for millions more Indians. But these devices have to be underpinned by a bedrock of privacy, security, and transparency. We have stepped up our efforts to deliver a privacy-first experience with Android 12 with a new privacy dashboard that gives people a clear timeline view of apps that have accessed their location, microphone, and camera in the last 24 hours — so they can better understand and control what data apps use. 


At the same time, we’re taking steps to identify and respond to concerns around specific app categories more quickly. For example, we recently announced clarifications around the policies on personal loan apps, including new requirements that will help safeguard users, while enabling legitimate developers to operate and flourish. And we have significantly expanded our Google Play support teams in India, enabling us to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of our partners and users — including around online safety. The bottom line is this: when we solve for our users, we also solve for our developers. 


We have no doubt that what we do in India will also shape the future of a Safer Internet for everyone. 


Building a safer internet for everyone is not one more thing to do, it is the one thing to do — together.


Posted by Sanjay Gupta, Country Manager & Vice President, Google India, and Kristie Canegallo, Vice President, Trust & Safety, Google 


These researchers are bringing AI to farmers

“Farmers feed the entire world — so how might we support them to be resilient and build sustainable systems that also support global food security?” It’s a question that Diana Akrong found herself asking last year. Diana is a UX researcher based in Accra, Ghana, and the founding member of Google’s Accra UX team.

Across the world, her manager Dr. Courtney Heldreth, was equally interested in answering this question. Courtney is a social psychologist and a staff UX researcher based in Seattle, and both women work as part of Google’s People + Artificial Intelligence Research (PAIR) group. “Looking back on history, we can see how the industrial revolution played a significant role in creating global inequality,” she says. “It set most of Western Europe onto a path of economic dominance that was then followed by both military and political dominance.” Courtney and Diana teamed up on an exploratory effort focused on how AI can help better the lives of small, local farming communities in the Global South. They and their team want to understand what farmers need, their practices, value systems, what their social lives are like — and make sure that Google products reflect these dynamics.

One result of their work is a recently published research paper. The paper — written alongside their colleagues Dr. Jess Holbrook at Google and Dr. Norman Makoto Su of Indiana University and published in the ACM Interactions trade journal — dives into why we need farmer-centered AI research, and what it could mean not just for farmers, but for everyone they feed. I recently took some time to learn more about their work.


How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

Courtney: I would say I’m a researcher trying to understand underserved and historically marginalized users’ lives and needs so we can create products that work better for them. 

Diana: I’m a researcher who looks at how people interact with technology. My superpower is my curiosity and it’s my mission to understand and advocate for user needs, explore business opportunities and share knowledge.


What’s something on your mind right now? 

Diana: Because of COVID-19, there’s the threat of a major food crisis in India and elsewhere. We’re wondering how we can work with small farms as well as local consumers, policymakers, agricultural workers, agribusiness owners and NGOs to solve this problem.

Agriculture is very close to my heart, personally. Prior to joining Google, I spent a lot of time learning from smallholder farmers across my country and helping design concepts to address their needs. 

“Farmers feed the entire world — so how might we support them to be resilient and build sustainable systems that also support global food security?” Diana Akrong
UX researcher, Google


Courtney: I’ve been thinking about how AI can be seen as this magical, heroic thing, but there are also many risks to using it in places where there aren’t laws to protect people. When I think about Google’s AI Principles — be socially beneficial, be accountable to people, avoid reinforcing bias, prioritize safety — those things define what projects I want to work on. It’s also why my colleague Tabitha Yong and I developed a set of best practices for designing more equitable AI products.


Can you tell me more about your paper, “What Does AI Mean for Smallholder Farmers? A Proposal for Farmer-Centered AI Research,” recently published in ACM Interactions

Courtney: The impact and failures of AI are often very western and U.S.-centric. We’re trying to think about how to make this more fair and inclusive for communities with different needs around the globe. For example, in our farmer-centered AI research, we know that most existing AI solutions are designed for large farms in the developed world. However, many farmers in the Global South live and work in rural areas, which trail behind urban areas in terms of connectivity and digital adoption. By focusing on the daily realities of these farmers, we can better understand different perspectives, especially those of people who don’t live in the U.S. and Europe, so that Google’s products work for everyone, everywhere.

Why did you want to work at Google?

Diana: I see Google as home to teams with diverse experiences and skills who work collaboratively to tackle complex, important issues that change real people’s lives. I’ve thrived here because I get to work on projects I care about and play a critical role in growing the UX community here in Ghana.

Courtney: I chose Google because we work on the world's hardest problems. Googlers are  fearless and the reach of Google’s products and services is unprecedented. As someone who comes from an underrepresented group, I never thought I would work here. To be here at this moment is so important to me, my community and my family. When I look at issues I care about the most — marginalized and underrepresented communities — the work we do plays a critical role in preventing algorithmic bias, bridging the digital divide and lessening these inequalities. 


How have you seen your research help real people? 

Courtney: In 2018, we worked with Titi Akinsanmi, Google’s Policy and Government Relations Lead for West and Francophone Africa, and PAIR Co-lead and Principal Research Scientist Fernanda Viegas on the report for AI in Nigeria. Since then, the Ministry of Technology and Science reached out to Google to help form a strategy around AI. We’ve seen government bodies in sub-Saharan Africa use this paper as a roadmap to develop their own responsible AI policies.


How should aspiring AI thinkers and future technologists prepare for a career in this field?

Diana: My main advice? Start with people and their needs. A digital solution or AI may not be necessary to solve every problem. The PAIR Guidebook is a great reference for best practices and examples for designing with AI.

A new Android smartphone and 5G partnership with Jio


Thank you to everyone at Reliance Industries for all you do for India from investing in infrastructure and technology to creating jobs and expanding opportunity to supporting communities in need, especially in this difficult moment for the country.


It’s been devastating to see the country hit so hard by COVID-19. Yet it’s heartening to see how Reliance has stepped up to contribute to the national response and get support to the communities that need it most. On behalf of all of us at Google: We hope you are taking care and we are wishing for better days ahead.


For Google, the past year has brought renewed purpose and greater urgency to our mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. At a time when so many aspects of our lives and work are moving online, it’s even more important to make technology accessible and helpful for everyone. 


This goal is at the heart of our partnership with Reliance Jio. I was proud to help launch this partnership last year. It was the first and biggest equity investment from the ₹75,000 crore ($10 billion) Google for India Digitization Fund.


Our vision was to bring affordable access to information for Indians in their own language, to build new products and services for India’s unique needs, and to empower businesses with technology.


I’m excited that today, we can announce the next steps in this vision, starting with a new, affordable Jio smartphone, created with Google. Our teams have optimized a version of our Android OS especially for this device. It will offer language and translation features, a great camera, and support for the latest Android updates.


It is built for India and it will open up new possibilities for millions of new users who will experience the internet for the very first time. And we can’t wait to show you the device later this year.


I’m also proud to announce that we are taking our collaboration further with a new 5G partnership between Google Cloud and Jio.


It will help more than a billion Indians connect to a faster and better internet, support businesses in their digital transformation, and help Jio build new services in sectors like health, education and more — laying a foundation for the next phase of India’s digitization.  

As part of this collaboration, Reliance will also shift its core retail businesses to Google Cloud’s infrastructure. They will be able take advantage of Google’s AI and machine learning, e-commerce, and demand forecasting offerings. Harnessing the reliability and performance of Google Cloud will enable these businesses to scale up as needed to respond to customer demand. 

Empowering businesses as they embark on their digital transformation is a key part of our mission in India, and I’m excited for the innovations this partnership will help unleash. We are proud to play a part in India’s next wave of technological innovation. 


Helping to connect 1.3 billion Indians to the opportunities the internet creates is meaningful to all of us at Google — and certainly to me personally. I know that with greater access to smartphones and improved connectivity, there’s no limit to what India’s people can do. 


We look forward to getting technology into the hands of more people and to exploring what more we can achieve together in the years ahead.


Posted by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet


Partnering with Jio to help bring the promise of internet connectivity and affordability to everyone

From the infrastructure that facilitates widespread connectivity to the availability of truly affordable smartphones, we have been committed to finding ways to help bring ubiquitous access to information to people everywhere. With the pandemic resulting in greater dependency on online services and the need for timely information, access to the internet is especially crucial today. But hundreds of millions of Indians are yet to benefit from being connected, to utilize services and access information that can have a positive and immediate impact on their daily lives. Today we are excited to give you an update on our partnership with Jio in two key areas that can help bridge this gap.


Making the internet accessible to millions of more Indians with Jio


While millions of people across India who use feature phones want access to a full-fledged smartphone, there exists gaps in usability and affordability that prevent these aspirations from becoming reality.


Our Android teams across the globe have been hard at work in finding solutions to these challenges. A big milestone in this journey was our announcement last year to invest in Jio Platforms Ltd to address this gap by jointly creating a device based on optimizations to the Android operating system and the Play Store that serves the needs of many who have never used a smartphone before, while offering premium capabilities that have until now been associated with more powerful devices.

Along with Jio we are thrilled to share a preview of our made-for-India device that is built to address the unique needs of millions of new smartphone users across India. We have worked closely with the Jio team on engineering and product development on useful voice-first features that enable these users to consume content and navigate the phone in their own language, deliver a great camera experience, and get the latest Android feature and security updates.


Image 1: Use Google Assistant to get things done in popular Jio apps; Image 2: Listen to any content on your phone screen by tapping the ‘Listen’ button; Image 3: Quickly Translate any content -- on your phone screen or in the phone’s camera


Easily access and consume content in a choice of Indian languages: For users who might not be able to read content in their language, with a tap of a button they can now translate what’s on their screen, and even have it read back to them in their own language. Read Aloud and Translate Now are seamlessly integrated in the OS allowing these features to work with any text on their phone screen, including web pages, apps, messages, and even photos. We’ve also added App Actions that enable Google Assistant to deliver a great experience with many of the Jio apps on this device. In addition to asking for the latest cricket scores or a weather update, you can also ask Google Assistant to play music on Jio Saavn or check your balance on My Jio.


Image 1: Clearer photos in low light with Night mode; Image 2: Photos have wider dynamic range with HDR mode; Image 3: Snapchat lenses bring Indian-specific effects to your selfies


A great camera experience: A fast, high-quality camera is a must-have feature for today's smartphone users, so we partnered closely to build an optimized experience within the phone’s Camera module resulting in great photos and videos: from clearer photos at night and in low-light situations to HDR mode that brings out wider color and dynamic range in photos, these are firsts for affordable phones in India. We have also partnered with Snap to integrate Indian-specific Snapchat Lenses directly into the phone’s camera, and we will continue to update this experience.


Ongoing feature drops and the latest system updates: Along with support for the latest Android releases and security updates, this experience will keep getting better with new features and customizations, all delivered over-the-air. With Google Play Protect built in, it has Google’s world-class security and malware protection. And with the Google Play Store, you will have access to millions of apps that people across the world use and enjoy.


The smartphone being developed with Jio will be called JioPhone Next. It will be coming later this year, and will enable scores of new internet users to experience these best-in-class Android smartphone features at an affordable price. This is a momentous step in our Android mission for India, and is the first of many that our Android product and engineering teams will embark on in India. We are also actively expanding our engineering teams in India, as we continue to work on finding ways to answer the unique needs of India’s smartphone users.


Powering Jio’s services with a new Google Cloud Partnership


We’re delighted to share that Jio and Google Cloud are embarking on a new long-term, strategic partnership, independent of our investment in Jio Platforms Ltd, with a goal of powering 5G in enterprise and consumer segments in India. Jio will take advantage of Google Cloud’s scalable infrastructure and will also migrate many of their core businesses to Google Cloud.


Google Cloud’s deep expertise and innovation, combined with telco-specific capabilities for security, performance, and resilience, will help Jio’s 5G service to deliver high speed internet as demand for connectivity goes up. The two companies will collaborate to bring a portfolio of 5G edge computing solutions as Jio builds new services across many verticals including gaming, healthcare, education, and entertainment. These will be powered by Jio’s 5G network and Google Cloud’s innovations in AI/ML, data and analytics, and other cloud-native technologies. 


This new Cloud partnership will also see Reliance migrating its core retail businesses like Reliance Retail, JioMart, JioHealth, JioSaavn and others to Google Cloud’s infrastructure, taking advantage of Google’s AI/ML, ecommerce, and demand forecasting offerings. Leveraging the scalability of Google Cloud will increase reliability and performance, as well as enable these businesses to scale up to respond to customer demand.  


We are deeply privileged to play a role in the next phase of India’s digital transformation and we look forward to working closely with Jio to share more on these developments in the months ahead.


Posted by Ram Papatla GM & India Engineering Lead, Android, and Bikram Singh Bedi, Managing Director, Google Cloud India

 

A new Android smartphone and 5G partnership with Jio

Editor’s note: Today, we announced the next steps in our partnership with Jio Platforms, including a new, affordable Jio smartphone built with an optimized version of Android OS and a new 5G collaboration powered by Google Cloud. The following is adapted from remarks delivered by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, at Reliance Industries’ Annual General Meeting today.


Thank you to everyone at Reliance Industries for all you do for India — from investing in infrastructure and technology to creating jobs and expanding opportunity to supporting communities in need, especially in this difficult moment for the country.


It’s been devastating to see the country hit so hard by COVID-19. Yet it’s heartening to see how Reliance has stepped up to contribute to the national response and get support to the communities that need it most. On behalf of all of us at Google: We hope you are taking care and we are wishing for better days ahead.


For Google, the past year has brought renewed purpose and greater urgency to our mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. At a time when so many aspects of our lives and work are moving online, it’s even more important to make technology accessible and helpful for everyone. 


This goal is at the heart of our partnership with Reliance Jio. I was proud to help launch this partnership last year. It was the first and biggest equity investment from the ₹75,000 crore ($10 billion) Google for India Digitization Fund.


Our vision was to bring affordable access to information for Indians in their own language, to build new products and services for India’s unique needs, and to empower businesses with technology.


I’m excited that today, we can announce the next steps in this vision, starting with a new, affordable Jio smartphone, created with Google. Our teams have optimized a version of our Android OS especially for this device. It will offer language and translation features, a great camera, and support for the latest Android updates.


It is built for India and it will open up new possibilities for millions of new users who will experience the internet for the very first time. And we can’t wait to show you the device later this year.


I’m also proud to announce that we are taking our collaboration further with a new 5G partnership between Google Cloud and Jio.


It will help more than a billion Indians connect to a faster and better internet, support businesses in their digital transformation, and help Jio build new services in sectors like health, education and more — laying a foundation for the next phase of India’s digitization.  

As part of this collaboration, Reliance will also shift its core retail businesses to Google Cloud’s infrastructure. They will be able take advantage of Google’s AI and machine learning, e-commerce, and demand forecasting offerings. Harnessing the reliability and performance of Google Cloud will enable these businesses to scale up as needed to respond to customer demand. 

Empowering businesses as they embark on their digital transformation is a key part of our mission in India, and I’m excited for the innovations this partnership will help unleash. We are proud to play a part in India’s next wave of technological innovation. 


Helping to connect 1.3 billion Indians to the opportunities the internet creates is meaningful to all of us at Google — and certainly to me personally. I know that with greater access to smartphones and improved connectivity, there’s no limit to what India’s people can do. 


We look forward to getting technology into the hands of more people and to exploring what more we can achieve together in the years ahead. 

Source: Android


How to help people navigate the internet, voice-first

When it comes to navigating the internet, many of us still think of keyboards and touchscreens as the norm. Or at least we did until recently. 


Advances in technology — and the changing preferences of internet users around the world — mean that more and more people are now using their voice to access online information and tools. According to Statista, 42% of the global population — and 50% of people in Asia-Pacific — have conducted a voice search on a device recently. And the trend is growing especially quickly in places with large numbers of new internet users, where many people have no history of using a computer or even typing into a smartphone.


Today, we’re releasing a Voice Playbook to help the technology industry better understand why people are using their voice, the challenges that remain to realizing its potential and how we can build more relevant and inclusive technology in response. 


New internet users are finding their voice


It’s easy to think of the ability to talk to your phone as just a matter of convenience — a way of getting information while you’re driving or cooking. But for many new internet users, voice isn’t just helpful — it’s critical. It provides a means for people coming online with low literacy levels to become self-sufficient, without help from others. It simplifies the way they interact with their device, given the complexity of typing in scripted languages. And it makes the output they’re seeking — the result of a search query, for example — much easier to understand. 


Right now, people are using their voice to record and share themselves speaking, issue commands like search queries, use virtual assistants and dictate phrases to be transcribed. 


People are using voice because it makes the internet less complex and confusing. At the same time, there are still significant, often frustrating challenges that remain. One is misinterpretation. Voice recognition and speech interpretation technology isn’t perfect yet, so people everywhere experience misinterpretations. But when new users have a bad experience with voice, they tend to blame themselves. A comment we hear a lot is that “it couldn’t understand my accent.” After a few bad experiences, people often just give up. 


A second major challenge is self-perception. New internet users can feel like using their voice makes others think they’re uneducated, or they worry that their friends will make fun of them. 


On top of this, there are privacy concerns. When people are often surrounded by big groups of people, they’re reluctant to speak to their device because they’re afraid of being overheard. 


A playbook for voice technology


Technology can pose challenges for voice users, but if it’s designed and built right, it can also help overcome them.  


Drawing on the lessons we’ve learned with our own voice technology, we’ve created a set of principles to guide the industry forward and help technology-makers everywhere think about how to build for voice. When we understand people’s experience of voice, and build around that experience, we can dramatically improve the helpfulness and accessibility of the technology they use.

  • We can make voice more discoverable with simple icons (not ‘50s-style microphones) that meet common industry standards, take up greater space on the screen and require no more than one tap to access. 
  • We can prevent people from becoming frustrated and giving up by making the output they get simpler and easier to digest. (For example, we can break up long passages into simple, shorter sentences when text is being read out.)  
  • We can reflect new voice users’ daily realities by better supporting the way they speak naturally — whether it’s factoring in pauses for breathing and thinking, or providing greater support for the many multilingual people who switch from one language to another when they’re talking.
A graphic showing Google's seven principles for building better technology to support voice users

As hundreds of millions more people around the world come online, we want voice to feel more natural and useful. We’re looking forward to helping more people use their voice — and feel heard.

What drives Nithya Sambasivan’s fight for fairness

When Nithya Sambasivan was finishing her undergraduate degree in engineering, she felt slightly unsatisfied. “I wanted to know, ‘how will the technology I build impact people?’” she says. Luckily, she would soon discover the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and pursue her graduate degrees. 

She completed her master’s and PhD in HCI focusing on technology design for low-income communities in India. “I worked with sex workers, slum communities, microentrepreneurs, fruit and vegetables sellers on the streetside...” she says. “I wanted to understand what their values, aspirations and struggles are, and how we can build with them in mind.” 

Today, Nithya is the founder of the HCI group at the Google Research India lab and an HCI researcher at PAIR, a multidisciplinary team at Google that explores the human side of AI by doing fundamental research, building tools, creating design frameworks, and working with diverse communities. She recently sat down to answer some of our questions about her journey to researching responsible AI, fairness and championing historically underrepresented technology users.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

I’m a human-computer interaction (HCI) researcher, which means I study people to better understand how to build technology that works for them. There’s been a lot of focus in the research community on building AI systems and the possibility of positively impacting the lives of billions of people. I focus on human-centered, responsible AI; specifically looking for ways it can empower communities in the Global South, where over 80% of the world’s population lives. Today, my research outlines a road map for fairness research in India, calling for re-contextualizing datasets and models while empowering communities and enabling an entire fairness ecosystem.

What originally inspired your interest in technology? 

I grew up in a middle class family, the younger of two daughters from the South of India. My parents have very progressive views about gender roles and independence, especially in a conservative society — this definitely influenced what and how I research; things like gender, caste and  poverty. In school, I started off studying engineering, which is a conventional path in India. Then, I went on to focus on HCI and designing with my own and other under-represented communities around the world.

Nithya smiling at a small child while working in the field.

How do Google’s  AI Principles inform your research? And how do you approach your research in general?

Context matters. A general theory of algorithmic fairness cannot be based on “Western” populations alone. My general approach is to research an important long-term, foundational problem. For example, our research on algorithmic fairness reframes the conversation on ethical AI away from focusing mainly on Western, meaning largely European or North American, perspectives. Another project revealed that AI developers have historically focused more on the model — or algorithm — instead of the data. Both deeply affect the eventual AI performance, so being so focused on only one aspect creates downstream problems. For example, data sets may fully miss sub-populations, so when they are deployed, they may  have much higher error rates or be unusable. Or they could make outcomes worse for certain groups, by misidentifying them as suspects for crimes or erroneously denying them bank loans they should receive.  

These insights not only enable AI systems to be better designed for under-represented communities; they also generate new considerations in the field of computing for humane and inclusive data collection, gender and social status representation, and privacy and safety needs of the most vulnerable. They are then  incorporated into Google products that millions of people use, such as Safe Folder on Files Go, Google Go’s incognito mode, Neighbourly‘s privacy, Safe Safer by Google Maps and Women in STEM videos. 

What are some of the questions you’re seeking to answer with your work?

How do we challenge inherent “West”-centric assumptions for algorithmic fairness, tech norms and make AI work better for people around the world?

For example, there’s an assumption that algorithmic biases can be fixed by adding more data from different groups. But in India, we've found that data can't always represent individuals or events for many different reasons like economics and access to devices. The data could come mostly from middle class Indian men, since they’re more likely to have internet access. This means algorithms will work well for them. Yet, over half the population — primarily women, rural and tribal communities — lack access to the internet and they’re left out. Caste, religion and other factors can also contribute to new biases for AI models. 

How should aspiring AI thinkers and future technologists prepare for a career in this field? 

It’s really important that Brown and Black people enter this field. We not only bring technical skills but also lived experiences and values that are so critical to the field of computing. Our communities are the most vulnerable to AI interventions, so it’s important we shape and build these systems. To members of this community: Never play small or let someone make you feel small. Involve yourself in the political, social and ecological aspects of the invisible, not on tech innovation alone. We can’t afford not to.

Meet the researcher creating more access with language

When you’ve got your hands full, so you use your voice to ask your phone to play your favorite song, it can feel like magic. In reality, it’s a more complicated combination of engineering, design and natural language processing at work, making it easier for many of us to use our smartphones. But what happens when this voice technology isn’t available in our own language? 

This is something Google India researcher Shachi Dave considers as part of her day-to-day work. While English is the most widely spoken language globally, it ranks third as the most widely spoken native language (behind Mandarin and Spanish)—just ahead of Hindi, Bengali and a number of other languages that are official in India. Home to more than one billion people and an impressive number of official languages—22, to be exact—India is at the cutting edge of Google’s language localization or L10n (10 represents the number of letters between ‘l’ and ‘n’) efforts. 

Shachi, who is a founding member of the Google India Research team, works on natural language understanding, a field of artificial intelligence (AI) which builds computer algorithms to understand our everyday speech and language. Working with Google’s AI principles, she aims to ensure teams build our products to be socially beneficial and inclusive. Born and raised in India, Shachi graduated with a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Southern California. After working at a few U.S. startups, she joined Google over 12 years ago and returned to India to take on more research and leadership responsibilities. Since she joined the company, she has worked closely with teams in Mountain View, New York, Zurich and Tel Aviv. She also actively contributes towards improving diversity and inclusion at Google through mentoring fellow female software engineers.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

My job is to make sure computers can understand and interact with humans naturally, a field of computer science we call natural language processing (NLP). Our research has found that many Indian users tend to use a mix of English and their native language when interacting with our technology, so that’s why understanding natural language is so important—it’s key to localization, our efforts to provide our services in every language and culture—while making sure our technology is fun to use and natural-sounding along the way.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re tackling in your work now?


The biggest challenge is that India is a multilingual country, with 22 official languages. I have seen friends, family and even strangers struggle with technology that doesn’t work for them in their language, even though it can work so well in other languages. 

Let’s say one of our users is a shop owner and lives in a small village in the southern Indian state of Telangana. She goes online for the first time with her phone. But since she has never used a computer or smartphone before, using her voice is the most natural way for her to interact with her phone. While she knows some English, she is also more comfortable speaking in her native language, Telugu. Our job is to make sure that she has a positive experience and does not have to struggle to get the information she needs. Perhaps she’s able to order more goods for her shop through the web, or maybe she decides to have her services listed online to grow her business. 

So that’s part of my motivation to do my research, and that’s one of Google’s AI Principles, too—to make sure our technology is socially beneficial. 

Speaking of the AI Principles, what other principles help inform your research?

Another one of Google’s AI Principles is avoiding creating or reinforcing unfair bias. AI systems are good at recognizing patterns within data. Given that most data that we feed into training an AI system is generated by humans, it tends to have human biases and prejudices. I look for systematic ways to remove these biases. This requires constant awareness: being aware of how people have different languages, backgrounds and financial statuses. Our society has people from the entire financial spectrum, from super rich to low-income, so what works on the most expensive phones might not work on lower-cost devices. Also, some of our users might not be able to read or write, so we need to provide some audio and visual tools for them to have a better internet experience.

What led you to this career and inspired you to join Google?  

I took an Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course as an undergraduate, and it piqued my interest and curiosity. That ultimately led to research on machine translation at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and then an advanced degree at the University of Southern California. After that, I spent some time working at U.S. startups that were using NLP and machine learning. 

But I wanted more. I wanted to be intellectually challenged, solving hard problems. Since Google had the computing power and reputation for solving problems at scale, it became one of my top choices for places to work. 

Now you’ve been at Google for over 12 years. What are some of the most rewarding moments of your career?

Definitely when I saw the quality improvements I worked on go live on Google Search and Assistant, positively impacting millions of people. I remember I was able to help launch local features like getting the Assistant to play the songs people wanted to hear. Playing music upon request makes people happy, and it’s a feature that still works today. 

Over the years, I have gone through difficult situations as someone from an underrepresented group. I was fortunate to have a great support network—women peers as well as allies—who helped me. I try to pay it forward by being a mentor for underrepresented groups both within and outside Google.

How should aspiring AI researchers prepare for a career in this field? 

First, be a lifelong learner: The industry is moving at a fast pace. It’s important to carve out time to keep yourself well-read about the latest research in your field as well as related fields.

Second, know your motivation: When a problem is super challenging and super hard, you need to have that focus and belief that what you’re doing is going to contribute positively to our society.

A more inclusive global digital economy

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from remarks delivered by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, at the Singapore FinTech Festival today on the need and opportunity to build a more inclusive global digital economy.


Thank you to the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the invitation to speak today—and for hosting this important event. While I hope we can have these big conversations in person again soon, I am grateful for all the ways that technology has kept us connected during the pandemic.


We’ve seen this year how online has been a lifeline. In Southeast Asia, 8 out of 10 people said that technology helped them navigate the pandemic, whether it was families searching for the latest COVID-19 information, small businesses using digital tools to reach new customers or students continuing to learn remotely.


Being helpful in these moments is at the core of Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We’re proud that users turned to products like Search, YouTube, and Maps to help people get through uncertainty, and that tools like Meet and Google Classroom helped keep people connected and businesses productive in these times. 


Southeast Asia’s digital transformation


COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital tools and trends by years. As a result, the Southeast Asian internet economy is on the verge of a massive transformation. A recent report we did with Temasek and Bain & Company shows that more than 40 million people in the region connected to the internet for the first time in 2020—that’s four times as many as the year before. In addition, one in three digital service consumers were new to a service, like virtual learning or buying groceries online. And 90 percent intend to continue using that service post-pandemic.


These digital trends aren’t just happening in cities. In places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, more than half of first-time users were from outside metropolitan areas, which shows huge promise for closing the urban-rural digital divide.


While COVID has accelerated the use of digital tools, it’s also exposed how many people  are still left behind: from the 1.7 billion people around the world who are still unbanked, to the huge portion of African households without access to broadband, to millions of women entrepreneurs who lack the same access to opportunity as their male counterparts.


A more inclusive global digital economy


So the question is: how can we use this moment to reimagine a more inclusive digital economy? One that brings the benefits of the internet to everyone?


The answer is two-fold: First, by accelerating progress in closing the digital divide, which means expanding connectivity, financial inclusion, and digital skills. Second, by deepening partnerships between governments and business, which means  building on the new collaborations we’ve seen during COVID.  


Connectivity as the foundation


The question of inclusion and opportunity is deeply personal to me. Growing up in India, I didn’t have much access to a computer, or a phone. To make a call, I had to wait in long lines to use a shared phone with everyone else. So when our family finally got our first rotary phone, it changed our lives for the better, and it set me on a course to help bring technology to more people around the world. 


Today, an internet connection is the single best way to make technology available to more people. At Google, we are focused on the infrastructure—like the subsea cables we’re building between Western Europe and the West Coast of Africa, as well as the affordable, low-cost devices that can transform digital access—something our Android teams are working on with Jio Platforms in India.


Increasing financial inclusion with Google Pay


Of course, it’s not just about connecting to the internet that’s important, it’s about what people can do with that connectivity. One of the most exciting advancements is financial connectivity, which ensures that everyone can participate in the economic system.


That idea is what inspired us to launch Google Tez, now Google Pay, our first digital payment platform, in India in 2017. At the time, my home country was still largely a cash-based society. Since then, digital payments services have helped reshape how transactions are made. They’ve increased financial inclusion by making payments simple and seamless for over a hundred million Indians.


This historic shift has changed what’s possible for business owners like Vijay Babu, who runs a laundry shop in Bangalore. Two years ago, Vijay would have had to pay $100 for a credit card terminal, worry about printed receipts, and wait days to get paid. 


Today, with Google Pay, and a little help from his daughter, Vijay is able to keep better track of his transactions, accept payments remotely, and build relationships with his customers.


There are many others like Vijay. People are using Google Pay to do everything from send money home to their families and split the check for dinner. Kirana store owners are using it to pay their business expenses, as well as receive payments from their loyal customers.


All told, people in India complete more than three billion digital transactions a month, two thirds of which are taking place outside India’s biggest cities. Digital payment transactions across Southeast Asia are set to almost double to $1.2 trillion by 2025.


Now, we’re using the same technology to improve Google Pay globally, starting in Singapore and the U.S., with more to come. And we’re partnering with organizations like the Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Rockefeller Foundation and others to drive Mojaloop, a nonprofit creating open-source tools any country and organization can use to develop its own digital payments system.


Bringing digital skills and tools to more people


Connectivity is the foundation of a more inclusive digital economy. The next layer is ensuring that everyone, including small businesses, have access to digital skills and tools. One example is the work that the Asia Foundation is doing, with support from our philanthropic arm Google.org, to train 200,000 small business owners and workers across Southeast Asia. 


This program means local nonprofits can help people like Lakela, an avocado farmer from Thailand who used YouTube to learn how to grow other types of fruit, and create new revenue streams for her business.


We’re also investing in the innovation ecosystem, including entrepreneurs and start-ups, to ensure digital economies are sustainable.


Power of partnerships


We can’t do any of this alone. That’s why partnerships are the second part of our agenda.


We have good models to build from. One of the bright spots in this year has been the strong partnerships forged between companies, governments, and NGOs, working together toward shared goals. Building a more inclusive digital economy will require this same spirit of collaboration.


A place to start is digital trade. In Southeast Asia alone, it’s estimated that expanding business and trade through technology could add $1 trillion to overall regional GDP by 2025. And it will help entrepreneurs grow across borders, leading to more jobs, better services and new opportunities.


Unlocking those benefits requires the right frameworks. Singapore and the Asia Pacific region are pioneering new approaches. New digital economy agreements could provide a template for other parts of the world, alongside broader trade deals like the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  By maximizing these digital agreements—and creating new ones—we can pave the way for a stronger, more inclusive digital economy. 


From closing digital divides to forging new partnerships, our goal for the post-COVID world is to ensure the benefits of technology can be shared as widely and equitably as possible.  


If we can do that, 2020 will be remembered not as the end of the world we knew, but the beginning of a world that works better, for everyone. We look forward to building that world alongside all of you.

Rise and move forward together: Indonesia’s digital future

In a year like no other, Indonesian entrepreneurs have shown grit and determination to keep their businesses running for the communities that rely on them. They’ve also shown great creativity in adapting new tools and technologies—like Ida, the owner of a traditional cake business in Lombok who saw business dry up when local schools were forced to close. After taking a Women Will course, Ida used Google My Business to connect with her customers, promote her range of cakes throughout Indonesia, and ultimately increase her income by 60 percent. Now she’s working with other women entrepreneurs in her community to help them make the most of technology in their own businesses.  


At today’s virtual Google for Indonesia, we celebrated this entrepreneurial spirit in adversity— and shared new initiatives to help the businesses and workers most in need. We also deepened our commitment to building a strong, inclusive digital economy for all Indonesians, reflecting the theme of this year’s event: bangkit dan maju sama-sama (rise and move forward together).  


Helping businesses and workers most in need


For many Indonesian business owners, the first priority continues to be funding their operations through the downturn, so they can rebuild. Together with Kiva and local financial service providers, we’ve created a $10 million fund to extend low-interest loans to the small businesses hit hardest by COVID-19—in particular, those from underserved communities.  


To support the fight against youth unemployment, Google.org will make a $1 million grant to Yayasan Plan International Indonesia (Plan Indonesia), helping launch a program that will provide training and job matching assistance for over 5,000 young people.


And as workers of all ages look to find work and improve their skills, we’ll continue to expand our Kormo Jobs app with roles in sectors like logistics and essential services, and add new tools to meet job-seekers’ needs. The app already provides remote work listings and the option to interview remotely. From here, we’re adding AI-enabled learning to help job-seekers practise English, and partnering with ARKADEMI &QuBisa to offer additional certified courses, including foundational IT training and advice on mastering recruitment processes. 


Preparing for a strong digital future


Technology has helped Indonesia weather COVID-19, and it will have an even bigger role in our future beyond the pandemic. The eConomy SEA 2020 report, released last week, showsIndonesians adopting new digital services faster than ever, while research from AlphaBeta finds that a digitally-skilled workforce could add more than $300 billion to Indonesia’s GDP by 2030.  


Realizing that potential means equipping more Indonesians with digital knowledge and confidence, and we’re committed to playing our part. This year, we’ve expanded and adapted our training initiatives across different areas of technology—hand in hand with the Indonesian government and our partners in business and the nonprofit sector.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 200,000 Indonesian small businesses have completed online Grow with Google skills courses, taking the total number to 1.7 million since 2015. Google Cloud has held 150,000 training labs to help Indonesians get cloud-related skills, complementing the opening of the Jakarta cloud region earlier this year. And YouTube’s Akademi Edukreator partnership with Kok Bisa has trained more than 1,000 teachers, young professionals, students and content creators to produce educational video content — with more in-depth training planned as we keep building the “educreator” community. 

Today, we also announced an expansion of Bangkit: a collaboration between the Indonesian government, Google and Indonesia’s biggest technology companies, created to encourage the next generation of technology talent. 


Already, we’re seeing graduates from the first Bangkit cohort—many of them young women—go on to jobs throughout the private sector, pursuing big ambitions for careers at the forefront of technology. Next year, up to 3,000 Bangkit students will have the chance to pursue courses across six different tracks, from machine learning and Android development to the fundamentals of cloud. 

Bangkit graduate Irfani

Irfani Sakinah, a 23-year old graduate from Makkassar, secured a job as a data scientist in Jakarta after completing the Bangkit program. 

With the energy and ideas of the next generation, and the solidarity we saw shine through at Google for Indonesia, I have no doubt that Indonesians will rise above the challenges of 2020, and move forward to a stronger future together.