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7 ways Google is using AI to help solve society's challenges

Colorful illustration depicting five of the uses of AI: A map showing a river and where it will flood; a collection of wildfire symbols; a microscope; bugs crawling on leaves; and a map marker with dotted lines coming from it

The potential of AI to solve big problems is increasing all the time. In the past few years, AI and transformational innovations have become more important in confronting some of society’s biggest challenges. Today, AI is helping countries and communities facing disease and natural disasters, and providing new opportunities for historically underserved groups.

Here are seven ways AI is already making the world a better place:

1. Forecasting floods and helping people stay safe through early warning systems

Last year the United Nations released a report stating that half of the world lacks adequate early warning systems for disasters like floods and fires. Yet research shows that the number of people impacted by climate-related crises and the damage they cause is only increasing. In response, we need lifesaving technology to help people stay safe and governments adequately prepare.

Our flood forecasting program covers dozens of countries. It shows forecast information in Search and Maps, and sends alerts to mobile devices to notify people in harm’s way. And our FloodHub features detailed inundation maps so people can see exactly what to expect in their location.

Video demonstrating how Google FloodHub can be used to help people, governments and aid organizations
Three people gather around a display showing a map of a wildfire boundary on a mobile phone

2. Detecting real-time wildfire boundaries to aid in firefighting

We use satellite imagery to create AI models that can detect wildfire boundaries in real time, and we show their location in Search and Maps. Last year, we applied our models to more than 30 wildfires in the U.S. and Canada, which helped inform local residents and firefighters. We’ve now expanded to Mexico and parts of Australia as well.

3. Monitoring prenatal health

Global maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high, with about 295,000 women dying during and following pregnancy and childbirth in 2017, most from causes that could have been treated or prevented with adequate healthcare. Ultrasounds, for example, have become a routine part of prenatal care for many, but are still difficult to access in low-resource settings, due in part to a lack of adequately trained healthcare workers. We are working with Northwestern Medicine to develop and test AI models to enable lightly trained ultrasound operators in low-resource settings to accurately identify potential problems and risks, such as fetal positioning.

4. Fighting pest infestations of crops

Pest infestations of cotton and food crops can devastate farmers and those who rely on their harvest. We are collaborating with InstaDeep and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to better detect locust outbreaks in Africa to make it possible to implement control measures. We’ve also supported Wadhwani AI in India to create an AI-powered app that helps identify and treat infestations of pests, resulting in a 20% reduction in pesticide sprays and a 26% increase in profit margins for farmers.

A satellite view of Kitui, Kenya, with building footprints from Open Buildings v1 and v2.

5. Helping address population changes and humanitarian response through buildings

Open Buildings is an open-access dataset project using AI to interpret satellite imagery, designed to pinpoint the locations and geometry of buildings. This information is useful for a number of important applications, from population estimation, urban planning and humanitarian response, to environmental and climate science. Available in Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, the project enables governments and aid organizations to better understand the needs of residents, both in everyday life and in crisis situations.

6. Detecting genetic variations that cause disease

Thanks to a partnership with PacBio, researchers are using our deep learning technology, DeepConsensus, to quickly and accurately identify genetic variants that cause diseases. This will help scientists to uncover serious genetic conditions, such as an elevated risk for breast cancer or pulmonary arterial hypertension.

7. Helping people with non-standard speech connect and be understood

Millions of people have difficulty being understood when they speak. Project Relate, an Android app built on AI research, helps people with non-standard speech communicate more easily with others. It can transcribe speech into text, use a synthesized voice to repeat what’s been said, or communicate directly with the speaker’s Google Assistant to complete any number of tasks, from playing a song to turning the lights on.

Video showing people talking about and using the Project Relate app to communicate

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