On the second week of May, I attended the annual Google conference, called Google I/O. I won’t cover all the points of the conference here – for that you can check eg. articles from The Verge or TechRadar, or watch a vlog of other Women Techmaker scholar :). In this blog post, you will find descriptions of the areas that were specifically interesting to me – and as I believe, those might also be very interesting to you, dear reader. Check the headlines 🙂
And yet before I start, let me bring one thing up: I received this opportunity from Women Techmakers, after being chosen as one of the grant recipients. Women Techmakers is an organization is founded by Google and it aims to provide “visibility, community, and resources for women in technology”. Check their website for more information or becoming a member (or maybe even an ambassador? :)).
Women Techmakers community at Google I/O. Can you find me? 😉 (Hint: I am quite high)
Accessibility & inclusion in tech
It is amazing to see how well Google works towards accessibility and inclusion in its products. They are marketing themselves as products for everyone, and they are indeed taking actions to make sure that no one is excluded from everyone. Sure, nothing is perfect, but we can still learn a lot from Google ideas and actions.
The most commonly repeated story this year was about Dimitri Kanevski, a research scientist at Google. In short, as he learnt English only after becoming deaf, his strong Russian accent makes his speech hardly recognizable by Google Assistant (GA). When realizing that, he sat with another researcher, recorded a huge amount of phrases, plugged it into GA data and voila – GA started recognizing what Dimitri was asking. Now, Google asks anyone who has an unclear way of speech to record their samples in order to improve the general voice recognition, you can find more information at the official project website. The project doesn’t end at that, watch this video on how else they are enabling people to communicate :).
Another example, that I like about Google is that they realized that not everyone in this world can afford great quality mobile phones that would handle all Android updates and even basic tools. Therefore, they do their best to compress most of the important applications to a minimum.
How do they make sure to work towards, and not against inclusion? Turns out that Google started an internal group that takes care of those topics within the company. They organize annual meetings, workshops… also a game, that you can see on the below photos (I really hope they will publish it!). It was a great discovery to see that, just after workshops on inclusion we did with girls at EIT Alumni meetup.
A game that makes you step into other’s shoes and find innovations improving inclusion.
Lastly, it is great they didn’t stop on just talking about this topic. The whole conference was prepared for people of different needs: those on wheelchairs, deaf, or just parents with young children, so all could attend the conference without a problem.
Check more in Designing for Accessibility talk.
Ethical and fair AI & ML
This topic was one of the most interesting for me at the conference, as my master thesis is heavily connected to it. Thus, the bigger disappointed it was when the main talk I waited for – Writing the Playbook for Fair and Ethical Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – was on the definitive lower level than others (prove? check the below photo). Luckily, my spirit was raised on the last day, with Machine Learning Fairness: Lessons Learned talk. It was tackling similar issues, but in a much better way: the presentation was clear, interesting and full of good examples and lessons. In fact, if you ask me for one talk I would recommend you to watch, I would say about this one.
The unfortunate slide from Ethical Playbook talk
A few of the lessons from those talks are to a) accept that it will take longer to finish the project when working with ethical requirements; b) make sure that everyone in the team is satisfied with doing a product that will comply with ethical norms; c) remember, that ethics is very much dependent on geographical context.
Two examples provided on ML Fairness talk. Do you understand the need of working on that issue?
Find more under those links: https://ai.google/education/responsible-ai-practices, https://cloud.google.com/inclusive-ml/#fairness-in-ml-automl, https://jigsaw.google.com/projects/.
Tensorflow model for interpreting ML predictions on a high level (increasing transparency of ML): https://github.com/tensorflow/tcav. Other possibly interesting talk I didn’t manage to attend: Designing Human-Centered AI Products
Collaboration between artists and AI
Something that I hadn’t expected, was attending so many art-related talks at Google I/O. Don’t get me wrong, I do like art and music, just I hadn’t connected it so much with Google previously. Furthermore, this year Art talks were mainly about the collaboration between artists and AI or ML, which is another topic close to my interests. I found it actually quite curious to see what are the artists’ learnings about the collaboration with AI. I think those could be an interesting base for improving human-AI work in other industries. Lastly, a nice message repeated throughout multiple talks was that AI helps you open new horizons as a tool and it does not replace you neither your work.
My favourite corner at Google I/O with AIxhuman generated art (from Google I/O official album)
Recommended talks from that sector:
Art and Technology Experiments with Google Arts and Culture – 2nd in the list of recommended videos from me – this one brings smile immediately when I open it, a lot of entertainment there :),
Making Art with Artificial Intelligence: Artists in Conversation – for insights and inspiration
Music and Machine Learning – where you can find an amazing, innovative AI instrument – a fruit bowl 😀
Also, check the tool that Google created for exploring the role of machine learning as a tool in the creative process: Magenta.
Apart from the talks, AIxArtist work was also represented at the 2nd-day concert of bands Yacht and The Flaming Lips. The first one used AI to create new melodies and lyrics based on their own creations and inspirations (check their AI-made lyrics here :)) and the second had a whole experience with Google Arts of exploring new possibilities in music. You can find a full description of the project here, and watch two videos of the best moment of their concert in a 360 view and side view! (do watch it, it’s astonishing to see our student ideas on a bigger scale ;)).
The colourful madness at The Flaming Lips concert
An example of ML generated lyrics, like a dog in bed
Security and privacy
I must admit – learning about those topics wasn’t in my interest when going to the conference, but you just couldn’t avoid those words at most of the speeches. Yes, Google now makes sure that at least you hear them doing something towards improving privacy, even if above the keynote stage there is a plane flying with a “Google Control is Not Privacy #SaveLocalNews” banner 😉. But let’s talk examples now: Google is now providing options to reset the data that are stored by its applications; making your phone smart enough to recognize “hey Google” without sending every word you say to the cloud, or adding a physical switch to the new Google Nest that cuts off the camera and mic. And it’s left only to us to believe it… or test it ;)).
Lastly, wellbeing. Another topic of a big meaning to me, however, I believe that it has its more glorious hour on the previous Google I/O conference. What is digital wellbeing all about? In short, about that your life is not negatively affected by the phone or other digital services. In fact, it is cool that there are companies that realise that they better keep their customers healthy, rather than make them spend all their life looking at provided websites and applications (and ads).
Something new for me that Google introduced was a joy of missing out (eg. compare to the FOMO – fear of missing out). I’ll let you digest this term in your own time, I am still processing it :). That’s enough of me speaking, you can find more on Improve Digital Wellbeing: Google’s Approach and Tips for Developers talk and https://wellbeing.google/ website.
A view on Shoreline Amphitheater, where the keynotes happened
All in all, I am happy and grateful that I could attend the conference. It was a brilliant experience of checking how such conference (and Silicon Valley :)) look in real, learning and networking with amazing people. If you miss some spark of excitement in my tone, well, I believe this article might explain it a bit ;). If you have any comment or questions, please contact me or leave the comment. Thanks!
Other talks that either I or my friends recommend:
On Creativity and Technology, with Legendary Animator Glen Keane
A Fireside Chat with Turing Award Winner Geoffrey Hinton, Pioneer of Deep Learning
Google AI Impact Challenge: Using Technology to Change the World