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Understanding the inner workings of neural networks

Category: Google | Mar 12, 2018

Neural networks are a powerful approach to machine learning, allowing computers to understand images, recognize speech, translate sentences, play Go, and much more. As much as we’re using neural networks in our technology at Google, there’s more to learn about how these systems accomplish these feats. For example, neural networks can learn how to recognize images far more accurately than any program we directly write, but we don’t really know how exactly they decide whether a dog in a picture is a Retriever, a Beagle, or a German Shepherd.

We’ve been working for several years to better grasp how neural networks operate. Last week we shared new research on how these techniques come together to give us a deeper understanding of why networks make the decisions they do—but first, let’s take a step back to explain how we got here.

Neural networks consist of a series of “layers,” and their understanding of an image evolves over the course of multiple layers. In 2015, we started a project called DeepDream to get a sense of what neural networks “see” at the different layers. Itled to a much larger research project that would not only develop beautiful art, but also shed light on the inner workings of neural networks.

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Outside Google, DeepDream grew into a small art movement producing all sorts of amazing things.

Last year, we shared new work on this subject, showing how techniques building on DeepDream—and lots of excellent research from our colleagues around the world—can help us explore how neural networks build up their understanding of images. We showed that neural networks build on previous layers to detect more sophisticated ideas and eventually reach complex conclusions. For instance, early layers detect edges and textures of images, but later layers progress to detecting parts of objects.

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The neural network first detects edges, then textures, patterns, parts, and objects.

Last week we released another milestone in our research: an exploration of how different techniques for understanding neural networks fit together into a bigger picture.

This work, which we’ve published in the online journal Distill, explores how different techniques allow us to “stand in the middle of a neural network” and see how decisions made at an individual point influence a final output. For instance, we can see how a network detects a “floppy ear,” and then that increases the probability that the image will be labeled as a Labrador Retriever or Beagle.

In one example, we explore which neurons activate in response to different inputs—a kind of “MRI for neural networks.” The network has some floppy ear detectors that really like this dog!


We can also see how different neurons in the middle of the network—like those floppy ear detectors—affect the decision to classify an image as a Labrador Retriever or tiger cat.

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If you want to learn more, check out our interactive paper, published in Distill. We’ve also open sourced our neural net visualization library, Lucid, so you can make these visualizations, too.


One Shining AI Moment: when machine learning meets your bracket

Category: Google | Mar 12, 2018

The stats. The uniforms. Sheer wild guesses. Everyone has a strategy for making their picks for the NCAA’s March Madness tournament. But this year there’s a new play in the book: machine learning.

Google Cloud has teamed up with the NCAA to host a competition on Kaggle, the world’s largest online community of data scientists, challenging participants to build and train machine learning models to forecast the games’ outcomes. Kaggle has hosted contests for the tournament in the past, but this year’s competition is taking things to the next round with a new data set that contains every play-by-play moment in men’s and women’s NCAA Division I basketball since 2009—more than 40 million plays.

The submission deadline for the competition is this Thursday, prior to the start of the tournament. Submissions will be scored by log loss, a common way of measuring accuracy of machine learning models. A total of $100,000 will be awarded across both the men’s and women’s competitions for the best performing applications of machine learning (which probably outdoes whatever happens in your office pool). And because the competition is based on ML models, not basketball know-how, it’s anyone’s game to win. Talk about a Cinderella story.

The massive data set being used in this competition represents just one area where Google Cloud is teaming up with the NCAA as their official public cloud provider. The NCAA is also in the process of migrating 80+ years of data across 24 sports to Google Cloud Platform (GCP), using Google tools to power analyses of teams and players. But for the data scientists and machine learning enthusiasts participating in the Kaggle competition, the fun is already underway. May the best model survive, advance and take home the championship!


The She Word: Winnie Lam, helping Google do the right thing for the planet

Category: Google | Mar 9, 2018

Editor’s Note: The She Word is a Keyword series all about dynamic and creative women at Google. This week, Google and the World Wildlife Fund announced the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. We sat down with Winnie Lam, who works on our environmental sustainability team, to learn more about this effort and what it means to be the “Captain of Earthly Elements” (her actual title) at Google.


How do you explain your job at a dinner party?
I’m responsible for environmental sustainability for Google data centers. My team’s job is to help Google do the right thing for the planet.

Have you always been interested in sustainability?
My dad’s first business was a car junkyard—he’d buy the cars that didn’t work and sell the parts. The concept of “reuse and recycle” was part of everything he did, and a big part of my upbringing. My whole family now works in that business.

Tell us about the years-long journey to the formation of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.
In 2012, I led an effort to ban the sale of ivory through Google ads and Google Shopping. I’m not an expert on the ivory issue, so I sought help from World Wildlife Fund, and we dreamed of getting other tech companies to ban ivory and illegal wildlife products. This vision started taking shape at an inaugural meeting with WWF and major tech companies to stop wildlife trafficking online. And now 21 companies across North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa have joined the fight against wildlife trafficking.

How One Googler Stopped People From Selling Ivory

Learn more about Winnie’s efforts to ban the sale of ivory through Google ads and Google Shopping

How’d you come up with your job title?
I gave myself the title “Captain of Earthly Elements,” because in my job, I work with the four classic elements: earth, water, air and fire.

You’ve been at Google for 13 years! What has kept you here?
I’ve had many roles over 13 years—from site reliability engineering to product management for our ads products to my current role. I’ve been very lucky that I can align personal and professional goals in the same job, and I’ve had several 20 percent projects (side projects that Googlers can dedicate part of their time to) that involve one of my biggest passions, animals. The effort to ban ivory started as a 20 percent project, actually.

Winnie’s handmade Halloween costume

Wow, what started as a 20 percent project is now a global coalition. Can you tell us about any other fun 20 percent projects?
For a few years, I recruited Googlers to go on a trip to Belize to measure the turtle population, along with scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society—that was a fun one.

What other things do you do in your free time?
I’m an artist and a musician. When I bought my house, I couldn’t find any furniture that I liked, so I decided to design my own. Now the environment is inspiration for my art—a couple of years ago when California was in an extreme drought, I dressed up as an artificial lawn for Halloween (handmade costume!). Couldn’t turn down the opportunity to make that statement.

What’s one habit that makes you successful?
I keep my eyes on the outcome, and always look for something in common with people. Not everyone cares about the environment as much as I do, but I can find common ground. For example, energy efficiency saves money, which can appeal to someone who works in finance, even if the environment isn’t a top priority for them.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?
There’s no career path—you invent it, it’s in your hands. Figure out what demand there is for the thing you’re passionate about, and how your skills and network can be used.

Winnie and Jane Goodall

Who has been a strong female influence in your life?
I’ve had many mentors along the way. I grew up going to an all-girls school, so female influences were everywhere in my life. Women as leaders were the norm. I once met Jane Goodall at a conference and had 60-second conversation with her about my idea to approach chefs in San Francisco, and ask them to stop serving bluefin tuna at their restaurant. She looked at me and said, “That’s the only way to do it.” She gave me confidence and validation to keep going, and I haven’t stopped since.


The High Five: new words light up in Search

Category: Google | Mar 9, 2018

The world learned about new words—whether from Merriam-Webster or Frances McDormand— this week. Here are a few of the week’s top-searched trends (with data from the Google News Lab):

The words of our generation:Dumpster fire,” once relegated to internet-speak, has made it into the official lexicon—one of 850 new words that Merriam-Webster added to the dictionary—and was up 3,200 percent in Search. Embiggen (a word invented by “The Simpsons,” that means “to get bigger”) embiggened with a 2,000 percent spike in search interest, while mansplain went up 500 percent.

First woman to“land a triple axel” and “go to MIT.” These are the top two rising searches over the past year for women who have broken barriers, and with International Women’s Day this week, searches about women continued. Frances McDormand, Jennifer Lawrence and Tiffany Haddish were the leading ladies in Search, and across the world, top searches for “gender equality” came from Nicaragua, Mexico and Sweden.

Say that one more time:After Frances McDormand’s speech at the Oscars, “inclusion rider” became a breakout search term (meaning there was a tremendous increase in search interest, possibly reflecting a term that had few, if any, prior searches). Since the term was relatively unknown, some people heard “inclusion writer,” which also saw a search increase (only 450 percent less than the correct term, “inclusion rider”).

Sweet tooth: M&M’s are mixing it up with new flavors—Crunchy Espresso, Crunchy Raspberry, and Crunchy Mint. Despite these new additions, “Neapolitan”—another limited-edition flavor—was the top-searched M&M flavor this week, and M&M-thusiasts are searching for recipes for M&M cookie, M&M cookie with peanut butter, and M&M cake.

Putting Nikumaroro on the map:Search interest for “Pacific Island of Nikumaroro” soared 4,600 percent after new forensic analysis of bones found there belong to Amelia Earhart.


Putting Mario on the Map

Category: Google | Mar 9, 2018

We know a true Mario fan when we see one. They hum the Super Mario Bros. background music on repeat, daydream about collecting gold coins and 1-UP mushrooms, and want nothing more than to traverse the Mushroom Kingdom with Luigi, Toad, and Yoshi to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser. To celebrate our favorite mustachioed plumber-turned-racer on his special day—MAR10 Day—we’ve collaborated with the team at Nintendo to let Mario accompany you on all of your driving adventures on Google Maps this week.

To get started, you’ll need to first update your app from Google Play or the App Store. Next,  simply click on the yellow “?” icon found on the bottom right of your Google Maps app on Android or iOS. You’ll then see a prompt to enable Mario Time!


Once enabled, you’ll see that the navigation arrow has morphed into—who else?—Mario. He’ll be a constant companion wherever you’re driving this week—to work, to school, or the spaghetti house. Just remember to practice safe driving on the road—we don’t encourage throwing bananas or red shells at other drivers in real life!


Ready to take a drive with Mario? He’ll start rolling out on Maps globally today, and will join you on your road trips for a week. Take a screenshot of your route and share it with @GoogleMaps on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #MarioMaps. But remember, make sure to avoid sharing personal details like your home or work address (seriously, think before you post). Let’s-a go!


More ways to use the Google Assistant, from your phone to your fridge

Category: Google | Mar 9, 2018

While I typically use my Google Assistant to play music, control my lights and set timers, it’s easy to dream about what else could be possible—like an Assistant that could help organize my sock drawer or bring me a cold drink while relaxing on the couch. While on its own the Google Assistant isn’t there just yet, with some creative makers and developers, it’s well on its way.

The Google Assistant is available across all kinds of devices—from speakers to phones, TVs and more. Until recently, device makers big and small had to use the same Google Assistant regardless of whether they were making the Assistant work with phones, fridges or lights. Starting today, thanks to a new feature for Actions called Custom Device Actions, device makers can extend the Assistant and add “native” functionality specific to their device. For example, if a washer has a specific color cycle, you could activate that cycle simply by asking the Google Assistant.

To showcase some of the imaginative ways people are using Actions, we’re building a Google Assistant Fun House at SXSW. If you’re in town, you can take our voice controlled sock sorting robot for a spin and test out our couch potato-optimized beer ordering system (yes, we actually built these).   


You don’t need to be in Austin this weekend to have a little fun. We also have a few other updates coming your way:

  • Notifications. You’ll soon be able to subscribe to notifications on your phone from your favorite Actions, so you can hear about a newly added workout, a change in a stock price, or a news alert, right when it happens. For example, Esquire cansend you daily “wisdom tips” to start your day off with a little sage advice and you can ask Forbes for a “quote of the day.”
  • Better media playback. Starting today, Actions will support media playback on speakers and Android phones, giving you access to more audio experiences like longer meditation sessions, relaxing sounds, clips from your favorite TV shows and news briefings. With this update, you can also easily pause or replay audio with your voice, or when you’re on your phone,  you’ll see a media player you can tap to pause, replay, or even turn the screen off while the audio keeps playing. With The Daily Show Action, for example, you can listen to the latest full and extended interviews.
  • New Actions. We recently launched a handful of new Actions for the Assistant, so if you’re in the mood for some inspiration, to listen to music, a quick trivia game or a good laugh, give these a whirl: American Idol, Trivia from iHeartRadio, Calm, The Mindfulness App and more.

We hope these new features help you stay up to date with your favorite Actions and media. And if you’re in Austin this weekend, see you at the Fun House at 1301 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, Texas 78701.


“Pup View” from the home of Japan’s adorable Akita dogs

Category: Google | Mar 9, 2018

Akita dogs, which hail from the snowy mountainous region in the north of Japan, are big, fluffy, and incredibly loyal. What better way to start off the Year of the Dog than with a visit to the home of these lovable pooches in Ōdate city. Now, Street View can take you there in an instant.

Meet “Ako”, “Asuka” and “Puuko”, Ōdate city’s Street View dog helpers...

Meet “Ako”, “Asuka” and “Puuko”, Ōdate city’s Street View dog helpers…

Akita dogs are a big part of life in Ōdate city. So to give visitors a snapshot of the local area, residents called on the help of a hardy trio of Akita dogs—Ako, Asuka and Puuko—to give their unique perspective of a dog’s life in Akita. With a small camera attached to a dog-friendly harness on their backs, the dogs set out to collect their very ownStreet ViewPup-View of their home city. Here are some highlights:

  • Dog 1
    In this photo, Ako stares at a statue of Hachi, a dog-turned-legend who dutifully went to Tokyo’s Shibuya station every day to meet his owner, years after the owner passed away.
  • Dog 2
    Here Ako had a great time playing in this field during a snowy walk. When the snow clears, rice is grown here.
  • Dog 3
    The Rouken “old dog” shrine,140.6021472,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x5f9ace544536f251:0xb73548f6561f47de!8m2!3d40.2388718!4d140.6869481?hl=en&shorturl=1

    in the middle of the forest, one of the very few shrines actually dedicated to a dog.

There’s much more to sniff out in Ōdate, from hot springs, history, culture, and cuisine, so come on in and dig around the new imagery!


Tune into new posts from musicians on Search

Category: Google | Mar 8, 2018

Today we’re making an update that puts your favorite musicians center stage on Search. The next time you’re wondering about Lorde’s upcoming tour dates or Steve Aoki’s new music video, you can hear the update directly from them—plus Sia,Son Little,Sofi Tukker,Shakira, andKygo—through a post in Search.


When you look up one of these musicians, you’ll find updates from them in their Search results, inside their Knowledge Panel. There, you can find images, videos, GIFs and text posted directly by the artist you’re searching for. You can easily tell if the updates are from a verified musician—posts will be marked with a blue checkmark next to their name.

This feature is live for all musicians who show up on Google worldwide, so put on your headphones and search away! And if you’re a musician with a Knowledge Panel, you can get verified and start posting at


Celebrating women’s voices around the world on International Women’s Day

Category: Google | Mar 7, 2018

As a woman, a mother to an amazing daughter, a sister, a wife, a leader and a passionate women’s rights advocate, it’s been incredible to bear witness to the groundswell of support for gender equality this past year. We’ve watched women find their voices, and seen the world begin to listen more actively.

In fact, over the last year, the world has searched for “gender equality” more than ever before. People are not just asking questions; they are looking for ways to understand inequality, seek inspiration, speak out, and take action. This International Women’s Day, we’re recognizing what the world is searching for, and celebrating the strong, courageous women who are pushing us toward a more equal future.

On our homepage today, we’re commemorating women whose stories are not often heard. Through an interactive Doodle, we’re highlighting the voices of 12 artists from all around the world, each sharing a personal story of a moment or event that impacted her life. Each artist featured in the Doodle tells a unique story, yet the themes are universal, reminding us how much we have in common.

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To make it easier to find women-led businesses on Google Maps and Search, we launched a new attribute that highlights local businesses that are owned, led, or founded by women. Now you can find more businesses like Reaching Out Teahouse in communities across the world.


Here are more ways you can get involved and celebrate International Women’s Day:

  • Tune in on YouTube at 11:45 a.m. ET tomorrow, March 8 to hear from Oprah Winfrey, Storm Reid, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and director Ava DuVernay of Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” for a special International Women’s Day Talks at Google event. The cast will be joined by 40 teen girls from Girls Inc as a part of a Made with Code event. 
  • Explore top-searched trends around women at
  • Celebrate with your Google Assistant by asking, “Hey Google, tell me quotes from inspiring women.” 
  • Support the women behind great apps and games as well as strong female protagonists in games, movies, TV and books on theGoogle Play store
  • Follow the conversation at @WomenTechmakers as over 20,000 women in tech connect and inspire one another during our annual Women Techmakers International Women’s Day events in 52 countries. 
  • Watch the Merrell Twins’ new YouTube series “Project Upgrade,” premiering Saturday, March 10. Follow two YouTubers as they build and code their own product, all the while showing girls the unlimited possibilities of CS and STEM.

Here’s to supporting women everywhere in the search for a more equal future.


Empowering women-led businesses on the Map and around the world

Category: Google | Mar 7, 2018

This year, celebrate International Women’s Day by supporting a women-led business. Starting this week, businesses can now identify as owned, led, or founded by women, by enabling the women-led attribute from their Google My Business dashboard. Attributes appear on a business’s Google listing on Maps and Search and give customers more details like “Has Wi-Fi” and “Outdoor seating” to help them decide where to go.  


Progetto Quid: Finding sanctuary in an ethical fashion

After freeing herself from an abusive relationship, Anna Fiscale was determined to help women in Verona, Italy overcome adversity through financial independence. Underneath her city’s rich history and culture, she saw a wide gender pay and employment gap holding them back. To solve this problem, she started Progetto Quid, which repurposes surplus material discarded by local textile factories into eco-friendly clothing. Now in four locations across Italy, Progetto Quid employs more than 85 employees, 80 percent of whom are women, in Verona and beyond.

Reaching Out: The art of creating a community for everyone

Mai Thi Kim Quyen and her husband, Binh, created Reaching Out Teahouse in Hội An, Vietnam after a medical accident left Binh partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Quyen saw a great need in her community to provide job opportunities and a support network for others living with physical limitations. Today Reaching Out provides employment for more than 70 people in Hội An and has become a flourishing local establishment under Quyen’s leadership.

Yogolandia Yogurt & Botana Bar: Sweetening a community and growing a family-run business   

Eve Rodriguez Montoya grew up watching her father build a chain of candy shops in the vibrant Chicago neighborhood of Little Village. She wanted to celebrate both her Mexican and American heritage by bringing something new to the business. Since there were no frozen yogurt shops in Little Village, she saw an opportunity to combine classic Mexican candies with frozen yogurt in flavors like horchata and churro. She opened Yogolandia Yogurt & Botana Bar and brought her idea to life. Para aprender más sobre Eve y su negocio, haz clic aquí.

Anna, Quyen, and Eve’s stories inspire us to keep building products that work for everybody. They’re also examples of what female entrepreneurs are capable of when given access to the right tools and trainings. With this in mind, we’ll continue to grow Google’s Womenwill initiative, which is dedicated to creating economic opportunity for women by helping them with digital skills, whether that’s website creation, social media or putting a business on the map. Womenwill trainings are happening in more than 17 countries and territories this month, and we hope to reach more future business owners like Anna, Quyen and Eve.

Happy International Women’s Day!