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Rama Devi has taught more than a thousand women how to use the internet in her role as a saathi—now she’s helping farmers become more productive. Amita Raghu has used digital tools to grow Krishne Tassels, her traditional saree tassel business, and trained 700 women in the art of tassel-making. Rajesh Jain, winner of Google’s AI Impact Challenge, has created an app that helps cotton farmers identify pests just by snapping a photo.
These are some of the more than 460 million Indians using the internet to search, create, solve problems, build businesses—and help others. They show how technology isn’t just driving economic growth in India, but creating a ripple effect of opportunity across communities.
Continuing that momentum was the focus of this year’s Google for India event, where we shared announcements aimed at making the internet more accessible, inclusive and empowering for Indians.
Expanding reliable Wi-Fi in India
Four years ago, we launched Google Station: a partnership with Railtel and Indian Railways to bring fast, reliable and secure WiFi to 400 train stations. We hit that milestone last May, and we’ve also expanded the program beyond train stations to include thousands of public buildings and spaces around the country. Today we announced the next step: a partnership with BSNL to bring high-speed public WiFi to villages in Gujarat, Bihar and Maharashtra—places that haven’t had a WiFi connection before.
We also announced an initiative to help the hundreds of millions of Indians who use 2G phones get the information they need, without requiring data or an internet connection. The Vodafone-Idea Phone Line—supported by the Google Assistant—enables Vodafone-Idea users to call a single number (000 0800 9191000) free of charge at any time, and ask for everything from sports scores, traffic conditions and weather forecasts to help with homework. The service will be available across India in English and Hindi.
Speaking India’s languages
As we improve access to the internet, we also need to make it relevant and helpful, with information Indians need in the languages they speak.
For many Indians, searching by voice rather than text is their first choice. Two years ago, we introduced voice search in nine Indian languages on Google Assistant. Hindi is now the second-most used Assistant language globally after English. And from today, you can simply say, "Hey Google, talk to me in Hindi” (or the Indian language of your choice) to start using the Assistant, without needing to dig around in settings.
Building platforms for economic opportunity
One of the biggest factors in India’s booming internet economy has been the rise of digital payments—from 17 million transactions in August 2017 to more than 900 million last month.
We launched Google Pay to support this growth, giving Indians a fast, safe and reliable way of making and receiving payments. It’s now used by millions of people to complete transactions with hundreds of thousands of offline and online merchants. But we think there’s an even bigger role for Google Pay as a tool to support small businesses.
Starting today, we’re introducing the Spot platform: a way for businesses to create experiences and engage their customers within the Google Pay app. Popular services like UrbanClap, Goibibo, MakeMyTrip, RedBus, Eat.Fit and Oven Story are already on board through our early access program, and we’re excited to see how other organizations use Spot to make life easier and more convenient for the Indians who rely on them.
We’re deepening our support for small businesses through a new app called Google Pay for Business: a free and easy way for small merchants and storefronts to enable digital payments without the hassle of time-consuming verification process. And we’re stepping up our support for job seekers too - introducing a Spot on Google Pay to help people find entry level positions that aren’t always easily discoverable online. We’ll be partnering with the National Skill Development Corporation to make sure Skill India students can take advantage of it.
Merchants can use Spot on Google Pay to provide a better customer experience.
These are just some of our efforts to help more Indians share in the benefits of the internet economy, and we’re looking forward to continuing to contribute to India’s extraordinary progress and growth.
People have been using technology to solve problems and improve their quality of life for centuries, from sharing knowledge with the printing press to going online to build a small business. These days, artificial intelligence is opening up the next phase of technological advances. And with its world-class engineering talent, strong computer science programs and entrepreneurial drive, India has the potential to lead the way in using AI to tackle big challenges. In fact, there are already many examples of this happening in India today: from detecting diabetic eye disease to improving flood forecasting and teaching kids to read.
To take this to the next level we've created Google Research India—an AI lab we’re starting in Bangalore. This team will focus on two pillars: First, advancing fundamental computer science and AI research by building a strong team and partnering with the research community across the country. Second, applying this research to tackle big problems in fields like healthcare, agriculture, and education while also using it to make apps and services used by billions of people more helpful.
Google Research India will be led by Manish Gupta, a renowned computer scientist and ACM Fellow with a background in deep learning across video analysis and education, compilers and computer systems. We’re also excited to have Professor Milind Tambe join us on a joint appointment from Harvard University as Director of AI for Social Good. Professor Tambe will build a research program around applying AI to tackle big problems in areas like healthcare, agriculture, or education.
The lab in Bangalore will be part of and support Google’s global network of researchers: participating in conferences, publishing research in scientific papers, and collaborating closely with one another. We’re also exploring the potential for partnering with India’s scientific research community and academic institutions to help train top talent and support collaborative programs, tools and resources.
Starting Google Research India is an important step for us, and for me personally, too. As someone who grew up in India, studied at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and learned so much from the community there, I’m grateful that we now have the opportunity to help advance research and play a part in building the AI community in India.
Around the world, floods cause between 6,000 and 18,000 fatalities every year—20 percent of those are in India—and between $21 and $33 billion in economic damages. Reliable early warning systems have been shown to prevent a significant fraction of fatalities and economic damage, but many people don’t have access to those types of warning systems.
Our coverage area is now twelve times greater than it was last year—covering 11,600 sq. kilometers in India along the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, two of the most flood affected rivers in the world. We’ve also sent over 800,000 alerts to individuals in affected areas.
Coverage area of our current operational flood forecasting systems.
The alerts we send out include three tiers of risk (covering approximately equal areas): Some flood risk, greater flood risk, and greatest flood risk.
Accuracy and reliability are paramount to the success of the initiative, and the safety of those in affected areas. Incorrect forecasts do more harm than good, and vague or overly-general warnings are consistently ignored by affected populations. We track the accuracy of our alerts across two main metrics:
This tells us what percentage of the actual flood was covered by our “some risk” warning. If this metric is low, that means people who should be warned are not getting warned. During this monsoon season, our some-risk recall metric was well over 95 percent, which means the vast majority of affected areas were correctly forecasted to be flooded.
This tells us what percentage of our greatest-risk forecast ended up being flooded. If this metric is low, that means we’ve told a lot of people we’re confident they’re at risk while they weren’t, and we may lose people’s trust. During this monsoon season, our high-risk precision was around 80 percent, which means that people who received a high-risk warning were indeed very likely to be affected.
To enable even faster progress in the future, we've increased the efficiency of our simulation models, automating manual tasks, and experimenting with new forecast methodologies. Read more about how we do this on the Google AI blog.
A snapshot of a TPU-based simulation of flooding in Goalpara, mid-event.
Many people don’t have access to the internet, especially during a crisis, so we’ve partnered with the Indian nonprofit SEEDS to provide information to individuals on the ground. We provide SEEDS with our real-time forecasting information, and they directly interact with the community and local panchayats (village councils). This year we’ve piloted this system in Patna, sending alerts to local leaders across hundreds of villages in the district, and we’re actively collecting feedback about how well the system worked.
Of course, our most important partner is the government itself, which not only provides us with critical real-time data, but is also best-placed to provide relief efforts in times of crises. In the past year, we’ve developed a partner notification infrastructure to provide our forecasts for the Central Water Commission and other organizational partners, and are continuously working with them to improve this system to be more useful for disaster management efforts.
Flood management is an enormous challenge, and reducing the immense harms of floods globally will require a collaboration between governments, international organizations, the academic community, and operational experts. By continuing this work, we hope to help develop tools to make forecasts and response systems more accurate and accessible to everyone.