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How Abigail Annkah is using AI to improve maps in Africa

I quickly developed an interest in using data-driven approaches to solving pressing societal challenges, leading me to work on biochemical image segmentation for my master’s thesis. I then joined the Google AI center in Ghana as an AI resident and after two years gained a full-time role as a research software engineer. There, I used…

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I quickly developed an interest in using data-driven approaches to solving pressing societal challenges, leading me to work on biochemical image segmentation for my master’s thesis. I then joined the Google AI center in Ghana as an AI resident and after two years gained a full-time role as a research software engineer. There, I used my expertise in computer vision to help build better image segmentation models that led to significant improvement of Google maps. This project created new possibilities for using improved satellite imagery analysis tools for purposes like disaster response or census planning.

Is there a specific project you’re especially proud to have worked on?

The aforementioned Google maps project — also known as the Open Buildings open-access dataset project — is close to my heart as an African. Open Buildings uses AI to provide a digital footprint of building locations and geometry across most of Africa. Our aim is to map Africa’s built environment using satellite imagery, and I dedicated almost all my residency to contributing to that work.

Cities in Africa aren’t constructed the same as in other parts of the world. For example, AI models in a U.S. city won’t be as useful here but the problem is actually bigger than just one product. Many large-scale digital maps today are usually missing that AI context. It was exciting to see the potential and unanticipated use cases that helped us refine the dataset, and we saw it make an impact on local communities. For example, the data we collected about buildings can also be used to analyze the density of the built landscape for environmental science purposes.

After identifying and adding millions of previously unmapped buildings to our dataset, we decided to open source the dataset, making it available for anyone to download.

How do you hope your work inspires the next generation of young scientists in STEM?

That’s a funny question because sometimes I think I haven’t gone that far in my career — but that’s only because I want to achieve so much more. When I’ve spoken to students they always ask about my journey to Google, especially starting a new role as a new mother. I want them to look at me and think if she did it, then I can do it too! It’s really important to me that my work reaches people so that they in turn can reach out to others when they achieve career success.

I’m very pleased there are more programs today encouraging girls and women to get into STEM. I was fortunate enough to participate in one of these programs early on, and it helped me get where I am today. Currently, the Accra team is launching Mind the Gap in Ghana and I get to interact with young students to inspire them to pursue STEM along with other members of the team.

How did you balance motherhood with your new position at Google?

Having a newborn at home while start my residency was stressful, especially following a difficult pregnancy. I was anxious about how much of myself I could give to my work, but I was able to make valuable contributions to the work and still be a trusted member of the team. When I became a full-time researcher, I thought to myself that if I can succeed as a working mother, then I should have confidence that I had earned this position. I also had a great maternity package and a super supportive team. I had a support system where I could ask colleagues, “How did you get through this? What did you do?” I didn’t have to figure out everything on my own.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I think the younger me is my greatest hero! I’ve had so many amazing people pushing me, but whenever I hit a roadblock, she’s the one who inspires me and reminds me that yes I can.

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A milestone for King’s Cross: a local innovation hub

Over the last few years, King’s Cross has truly transformed, becoming a thriving hub of innovation and creativity. The transformation is a sign of the UK’s strengths, with its incredible local talent and strong history of leading technological and scientific progress. These strengths inspired us to invest here in King’s Cross, in one of our…

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Over the last few years, King’s Cross has truly transformed, becoming a thriving hub of innovation and creativity. The transformation is a sign of the UK’s strengths, with its incredible local talent and strong history of leading technological and scientific progress. These strengths inspired us to invest here in King’s Cross, in one of our most ambitious developments to date.

Today, together with local MP, Keir Starmer, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, leader of Camden Council Georgia Gould, and our building partners, we celebrated a major milestone in the construction of our new King’s Cross office – and in our long-standing commitment to the UK – as we placed the final beam on our new development.

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party and MP for Holborn and St Pancras said:

“It’s fantastic to attend not only as the leader of the Labour Party and local MP but as a proud local resident of more than 25 years. Congratulations to Google on your magnificent new building, and for all it represents – a seizing of opportunity, harnessing of talent, the creation of good, sustainable jobs and an immense contribution to our community. You’re showing what can be achieved when forward looking local government partners with the ingenuity of the private sector.”

We have long believed that creativity is spurred by environments that promote connection and wellbeing. This is more important than ever as we adapt to a future of flexible, hybrid working. Our new King’s Cross building will be equipped with new workplace technologies to help global and remote teams collaborate more effectively, build relationships, learn from colleagues and dream up new ways to solve complex challenges.

It will also be a place for community and connection thanks to the ground floor retail and community spaces, which are being curated with — and for — the local community. In the coming weeks, in partnership with more than 30 youth organisations in Camden, we’re excited to open our doors to 500 local young people for a week of taster sessions to inspire school students and job seekers with careers in technology, as well as more than 100 local work experience students.

Innovation extends to the design of the building itself, which is playing an important role in helping us to achieve our goal of going carbon free by 2030. We’re pioneering new technologies that will make our King’s Cross office our most ambitious smart building to date, including a system of 13,500 interconnected devices that will work together to improve energy efficiency in real time.

While the doors of our new King’s Cross development won’t open until 2024, incredible work is already underway nearby. The neighbourhood is home to thousands of our engineers working on products like Android, Wear OS, Search and Google Business Profiles, which are used the world over. In fact, many of the team behind some of our newest products – to be released later this year – are based right here in King’s Cross. We look forward to growing these teams and being a part of the local community’s future growth and development.

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Protecting people’s privacy on health topics

Privacy matters to people — especially around topics such as their health. Given that these issues apply to healthcare providers, telecommunications companies, banks, tech platforms, and many more, we know privacy protections cannot be solely up to individual companies or states acting individually. That’s why we’ve long advocated for a comprehensive and nationwide U.S. privacy…

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Privacy matters to people — especially around topics such as their health. Given that these issues apply to healthcare providers, telecommunications companies, banks, tech platforms, and many more, we know privacy protections cannot be solely up to individual companies or states acting individually. That’s why we’ve long advocated for a comprehensive and nationwide U.S. privacy law that guarantees protections for everyone, and we’re pleased to see recent progress in Congress.

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Google and U.S. developers find agreement over Google Play store

Finally, we’ve heard developers want to understand more about how Google Play operates, which is why we’ve agreed to publish annual transparency reports. The reports will share information about the Google Play Store, including statistics such as apps removed from Google Play, account terminations, and other data regarding how users interact with Google Play. Source

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Finally, we’ve heard developers want to understand more about how Google Play operates, which is why we’ve agreed to publish annual transparency reports. The reports will share information about the Google Play Store, including statistics such as apps removed from Google Play, account terminations, and other data regarding how users interact with Google Play.

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