Cannes Lions

When Rivers Rise: How AI is helping predict floods

GOOGLE BRAND STUDIO, San Francisco / GOOGLE / 2019







Floods are the most deadly natural disaster, affecting 250M+ people worldwide. They are most catastrophic in underdeveloped nations, where roughly 80% of all flooding fatalities occur. These countries lack sophisticated weather forecasting systems that can accurately predict where severe flooding is likely to happen. Often times people receive little to no warning before floods strike, and have no time to prepare and evacuate.


This short-form documentary reveals what life is like for people who live under constant threat of massive floods, which are happening with increasing regularity around the world. A small team of Google engineers from Tel Aviv unveil new machine learning technology they’ve developed that can predict where floods will travel ahead of time. Based on these forecasts, the team is working with local governments in developing countries to broadcast earlier, accurate flood alerts.

This is not the quest of one, but the quest of many. We feature and celebrate specific people who work at Google in each episode, but also meet some brilliant minds outside of Google they’re collaborating with - social workers, government officials, altruists, visionaries. This isn’t a series about the lone tech hero saving the day. It takes a village, after all.


Our goal was to humanize the Google brand by introducing the world to people who work at Google and their individual quests to solve human problems using technology. We also aim to shift attitudes and anxiety around technology like AI by providing an optimistic look at the role it can play in improving and saving lives.

Technology plays an important role in these stories, but it’s not the main character. Our primary focus is always on people - those behind the tech and how its being used to help solve a problem for others. Interviews provide the backbone for the narrative. When we ask questions, we strive to know more than what happened. We seek to understand why. We’re always listening for a deeper, more universal truth at the center of each story.


A small group of Google engineers from Tel Aviv use machine learning to develop a forecasting system that can predict where floods will travel. Using Google’s map data, computational power, and ability to disseminate information, this team is designing a cost-effective, scalable system that will yield more accurate flooding alerts. We meet the team in India, where they are running their first of many pilot programs to test their forecasting model. Their goal is to extend flood warnings from 1 day to 3, and to make this technology available to any country who needs it, for free.

Promotion for this launch included a global launch on our homepage pointing users across 17 markets to the film and an immersive editorial experience on Google’s About site . It also consisted of owned/paid social media efforts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.


“When Rivers Rise” was viewed over 2 Million times on YouTube. The film raised awareness for Google’s larger crisis response efforts, including Person Finder, SOS Alerts, and Public Alerts

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