When a company’s name becomes a verb, it’s hard to argue it hasn’t had a big impact. Google, the flagship of the Alphabet holding company, has changed how we find information, navigate the world, and communicate. Underlying most of its products and services is artificial intelligence—it makes Google’s searches better (and thus more valuable to advertisers), Google Translate more accurate, and Google Assistant smarter. The company has made many of the breakthrough A.I. techniques behind these products freely available for others to use.
But Google is also deploying A.I. to directly save lives. Its Flood Forecasting Initiative uses A.I. to generate hyper-local forecasts of rising water levels (as shown here), giving more than 200 million people at risk from potentially lethal floods across India up to 48 hours’ advance warning of dangerous water levels. Since launching in cooperation with India’s government in 2017, the project has issued 27 million alerts. Research Google is conducting with Yale indicates that 65% of those who get an alert take action to protect themselves. Google has extended the system to Bangladesh, where flooding kills some 5,000 people a year. And it hopes to extend it worldwide: Globally, flooding affects up to 250 million people and causes $33 billion in damage annually.