How Google Doodles are oodles of techno-creative design

On March 22, Google chose legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach to explore using artificial intelligence in a Doodle for the first time.

Published: 24th March 2019 05:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2019 11:44 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

From being everyday Google users we all know that Google Doodles are special Google logos that are a homage to something that happened on that day or is going to happen on that day. Last week saw two special such Doodles which caught my attention, and interest.

On March 22, Google chose legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach to explore using artificial intelligence in a Doodle for the first time. The Google Doodle celebrated the life of the German musician and also marked a big first for the global search engine. The interactive doodle was the first to be powered by artificial intelligence (AI), using machine learning to identify and mimic the patterns of Bach’s signature style to compose a custom melody. Bach is famous for creating the four-part harmonies, which changed the way music was composed. The Google team used that very construct to create the AI Doodle. Explaining the Google Doodle, Jacob Howcroft, a software developer for the Google Doodle team, said: “Bach’s music has all the rules of how to write good harmonies and melodies baked in, so it’s a really good resource for machine learning to learn music”.

The beauty of this is that it prompts you to compose a two-measure melody or pick one of the pre-existing choices. When you press the Harmonize button, it uses machine learning to give a version of your melody that sounds like it was composed by Bach himself!

Three Google teams had to collaborate for this historic tech-creative project: the Doodle team, the Google Magenta team (which is tasked as a unit to exploring the role of machine learning in the processes of creating art and music) and the Google PAIR team (which concentrates on designing people-centric AI systems). To develop the Doodle’s ability, the team first created a machine learning model to power it. They then fed that model 306 Bach chorale harmonizations, which are perfect for training since they always feature four voices that have their own melodic line. In addition, they designed the process so that it happens entirely within the browser to  ensure it can be accessed around the world. If by chance the PC or internet is too slow, though, it can rely on global data centers. The Bach Doodle was up for 48 hours from March 21 to March 22 in 77 countries. I am truly fascinated by the time, effort, energy and innovation that goes into the creation of Google Doodles. Google Doodles are a great way for Google to show it’s not just a big evil corporation, but a caring, socially aware company. And I love them for it.   

On Holi, last week, Google dedicated its Doodle in India to the festival of colours, marking the first day of spring and the end of winter. The artwork created by Chennai based artist Chaaya Prabhat depicts revellers splashing colours on each other while one person is playing an instrument and another is eating sweets, all with an orange elephant trunk curling across the front. Prabhat apparently spent many weeks ideating on the Doodle after she was commissioned by Google, drawing inspiration from the vivid colours of the Holi powders, and the textures and patterns of the buildings and clothes of the people of India. The Doodle is a vibrant rendition awash in blue, ethnic, yet modern and a beautiful way to celebrate a festival of joy. Google has mastered the art of localization for what is truly a global brand. Last year, dhol players in blue, red, yellow and green celebrating Holi replaced the traditional Google logo that has its letters painted with those very colours. The dhol players in the four main colors of the Holi Doodle stood for red for love, yellow for the colour of turmeric, blue to represent the Hindu god Krishna and green symbolising new beginnings with the coming of spring.

Few would know that the first Google Doodle was featured in August 1998 and designed by Google’s founders: Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It notified the users of a Burning Man Festival, which Page and Brin attended, so if the servers crashed, you would know why Google was offline. Later on, Google Doodles became more than random logos; they became a part of Google’s culture.

Back to the Bach AI Doodle, it is not the first time that Google has played around with music. On Freddie Mercury’s 65th Birthday, if you clicked Play on the logo, you’d start a great tribute to Freddie Mercury. On Les Paul’s 96th Birthday, on the Google Doodle you could play it like a guitar, record it and send a link to a friend. As I said before, the Doodles fascinate me for their topicality, their creativity and the exquisite use of hi-touch technology that you and I can use, interact with and enjoy.

(The writer is an advertising veteran. Views are personal.)

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