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Google Research embarks on effort to map a mouse brain

Posted by Michał Januszewski, Research Scientist, Google Research

The human brain is perhaps the most computationally complex machine in existence, consisting of networks of billions of cells. Researchers currently don’t understand the full picture of how glitches in its network machinery contribute to mental illnesses and other diseases, such as dementia. However, the emerging connectomics field, which aims to precisely map the connections between every cell in the brain, could help solve that problem. While maps have only been created for simpler organisms, technological advances for mapping even larger brains can enable us to understand how the human brain works, and how to treat brain diseases.

Today, we’re excited to announce that the Connectomics team at Google Research and our collaborators are launching a $33 million project to expand the frontiers of connectomics over the next five years. Supported by the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by researchers at Harvard University, we’ll be working alongside a multidisciplinary team of experts from the Allen Institute, MIT, Cambridge University, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University, with advisers from HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus. Our project goal is to tackle an immense challenge in neuroscience: mapping a tiny fraction (2-3%) of the mouse brain. We will specifically target the hippocampal region, which is responsible for encoding memories, attention and spatial navigation. This project is one of 11 funded by the NIH’s $150 million BRAIN Initiative Connectivity Across Scales (BRAIN CONNECTS) program. Google Research is contributing computational and analytical resources to this effort, and will not receive any funding from the NIH. Our project asks a critical question: Can we scale and speed up our technologies enough to map the whole connectome of a mouse brain?

The modern era of connectomics

This effort to map the connectome of a small part of the mouse brain builds on a decade of innovation in the field, including many advances initiated by the Connectomics team at Google Research. We hope to accomplish something similar to the early days of the Human Genome Project, when scientists worked for years to sequence a small portion of the human genome as they refined technologies that would enable them to complete the rest of the genome.

In 2021, we and collaborators at Harvard successfully mapped one cubic millimeter of the human brain, which we released as the H01 dataset, a resource for studying the human brain and scaling connectomics technologies. But mapping the entire human brain connectome would require gathering and analyzing as much as a zettabyte of data (one billion terabytes), which is beyond the current capabilities of existing technologies.

Analyzing a mouse connectome is the next best thing. It is small enough to be technically feasible and could potentially deliver insights relevant to our own minds; neuroscientists already use mice to study human brain function and dysfunction. By working together to map 10–15 cubic mm of the mouse brain, we hope to develop new approaches that will allow us to map the entire remainder of the mouse brain, and the human brain thereafter.

Neuroscientists have been working for decades to map increasingly larger and more complicated connectomes.

One of biology’s largest datasets

In this connectomics project, we will map the connectome of the hippocampal formation of the mouse brain, which converts short-term memories into long-term memories and helps the mouse navigate in space. The mouse hippocampal formation is the largest area of any brain we’ve attempted to understand in this way. Through mapping this region of the mouse brain, we will create one of the largest datasets in biology, combining about 25,000 terabytes, or 25 petabytes of brain data. For reference, there are about 250 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. If each of those stars was a single byte, it would take 100,000 Milky Way Galaxies to match the 25 petabytes of data that the project will collect when mapping a small region of the mouse brain.

To illustrate the hippocampal project’s scale, we calculated the number of Pixel phones (shown as stacks of Pixels below) needed to store the image data from the completed connectome projects that mapped the roundworm and fruit fly brains, as well as for the mouse hippocampal region and entire mouse brain projects, which are just getting started.

Then, we compared the heights of each Pixel stack to familiar objects and landmarks. It would take a stack of 100 Pixels, as tall as a four-year-old girl, to store the image data for the fruit fly brain, the largest completed project thus far. In contrast, the mouse hippocampal connectome effort will require storage equivalent to more than 48,800 Pixels, reaching as high as the Empire State Building. The animation below shows how the mouse hippocampal project will surpass the scale of previous connectome projects.

We are partnering with several collaborators to build a connectome (a map of the connections between brain cells) for the hippocampal region of a mouse brain. This project will create the largest connectomic dataset ever, surpassing the scale of previous projects that mapped the smaller roundworm and fruit fly brains. We hope this effort will lead to the development of new approaches that will allow us to later map an entire mouse brain. This animation shows how the field of connectomics is scaling up by calculating the number of Pixel phones needed to store the data from various projects. It would take just two Pixels, the height of an olive, to store the roundworm connectome data, while it would take a stack of Pixels the size of Mount Everest to store the data from an entire mouse connectome.

Understanding the connectome of the mouse hippocampal formation could help illuminate the way our own brains work. For instance, we may find common features between this circuitry in the mouse brain and human brains that explain how we know where we are, how our brains associate memories with specific locations, and what goes wrong in people who can’t properly form new spatial memories.

Opening the petabyte pipeline

Over the last decade, our team has worked to develop tools for managing massive connectomic datasets, and extracting scientific value from them. But a mouse brain has 1,000 times more neurons than the brain of the Drosophila fruit fly, an organism for which we helped build a connectome for a large part of the brain. Starting the mouse brain connectome will challenge us to improve existing technologies to enable us to map more data faster than ever before.

We’ll continue to refine our flood-filling networks, which use deep learning to trace, or “segment”, each neuron’s path through three-dimensional brain volumes made from electron microscope data. We’ll also extend the capabilities of our self-supervised learning technology, SegCLR, which allows us to automatically extract key insights from segmented volumes, such as identifying cell type (e.g., pyramidal neuron, basket neuron, etc.) and parts of each neuron (e.g., axon, dendrite, etc.).

A flood filling network traces a neuron through three-dimensional brain space.

We will also continue to enhance the scalability and performance of our core connectomics infrastructure, such as TensorStore for storage and Neuroglancer for visualization, in order to enable all of our computational pipelines and human analysis workflows to operate at these new scales of data. We’re eager to get to work to discover what peering into a mouse’s mind might tell us about our own.


The mouse connectomics project described in this blog post will be supported in part by the NIH BRAIN Initiative under award number 1UM1NS132250. Google Research is contributing computational and analytical resources to the mouse connectome project, and will not receive funding from the NIH. Many people were involved in the development of the technologies that make this project possible. We thank our long-term academic collaborators in the Lichtman Lab (Harvard University), HHMI Janelia, and the Denk Lab (Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence), and acknowledge core contributions from the Connectomics Team at Google. We also thank John Guilyard for creating the illustrative animation in this post, and Elise Kleeman, and Erika Check Hayden for their support. Thanks to Lizzie Dorfman, Michael Brenner, Jay Yagnik and Jeff Dean for their support, coordination and leadership.

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Distilling step-by-step: Outperforming larger language models with less training data and smaller model sizes

Posted by Cheng-Yu Hsieh, Student Researcher, and Chen-Yu Lee, Research Scientist, Cloud AI Team

Large language models (LLMs) have enabled a new data-efficient learning paradigm wherein they can be used to solve unseen new tasks via zero-shot or few-shot prompting. However, LLMs are challenging to deploy for real-world applications due to their sheer size. For instance, serving a single 175 billion LLM requires at least 350GB of GPU memory using specialized infrastructure, not to mention that today’s state-of-the-art LLMs are composed of over 500 billion parameters. Such computational requirements are inaccessible for many research teams, especially for applications that require low latency performance.

To circumvent these deployment challenges, practitioners often choose to deploy smaller specialized models instead. These smaller models are trained using one of two common paradigms: fine-tuning or distillation. Fine-tuning updates a pre-trained smaller model (e.g., BERT or T5) using downstream manually-annotated data. Distillation trains the same smaller models with labels generated by a larger LLM. Unfortunately, to achieve comparable performance to LLMs, fine-tuning methods require human-generated labels, which are expensive and tedious to obtain, while distillation requires large amounts of unlabeled data, which can also be hard to collect.

In “Distilling Step-by-Step! Outperforming Larger Language Models with Less Training Data and Smaller Model Sizes”, presented at ACL2023, we set out to tackle this trade-off between model size and training data collection cost. We introduce distilling step-by-step, a new simple mechanism that allows us to train smaller task-specific models with much less training data than required by standard fine-tuning or distillation approaches that outperform few-shot prompted LLMs’ performance. We demonstrate that the distilling step-by-step mechanism enables a 770M parameter T5 model to outperform the few-shot prompted 540B PaLM model using only 80% of examples in a benchmark dataset, which demonstrates a more than 700x model size reduction with much less training data required by standard approaches.

While LLMs offer strong zero and few-shot performance, they are challenging to serve in practice. On the other hand, traditional ways of training small task-specific models require a large amount of training data. Distilling step-by-step provides a new paradigm that reduces both the deployed model size as well as the number of data required for training.

Distilling step-by-step

The key idea of distilling step-by-step is to extract informative natural language rationales (i.e., intermediate reasoning steps) from LLMs, which can in turn be used to train small models in a more data-efficient way. Specifically, natural language rationales explain the connections between the input questions and their corresponding outputs. For example, when asked, “Jesse’s room is 11 feet long and 15 feet wide. If she already has 16 square feet of carpet, how much more carpet does she need to cover the whole floor?”, an LLM can be prompted by the few-shot chain-of-thought (CoT) prompting technique to provide intermediate rationales, such as, “Area = length * width. Jesse’s room has 11 * 15 square feet.” That better explains the connection from the input to the final answer, “(11 * 15 ) – 16”. These rationales can contain relevant task knowledge, such as “Area = length * width”, that may originally require many data for small models to learn. We utilize these extracted rationales as additional, richer supervision to train small models, in addition to the standard task labels.

Overview on distilling step-by-step: First, we utilize CoT prompting to extract rationales from an LLM. We then use the generated rationales to train small task-specific models within a multi-task learning framework, where we prepend task prefixes to the input examples and train the model to output differently based on the given task prefix.

Distilling step-by-step consists of two main stages. In the first stage, we leverage few-shot CoT prompting to extract rationales from LLMs. Specifically, given a task, we prepare few-shot exemplars in the LLM input prompt where each example is composed of a triplet containing: (1) input, (2) rationale, and (3) output. Given the prompt, an LLM is able to mimic the triplet demonstration to generate the rationale for any new input. For instance, in a commonsense question answering task, given the input question “Sammy wanted to go to where the people are. Where might he go? Answer Choices: (a) populated areas, (b) race track, (c) desert, (d) apartment, (e) roadblock”, distilling step-by-step provides the correct answer to the question, “(a) populated areas”, paired with the rationale that provides better connection from the question to the answer, “The answer must be a place with a lot of people. Of the above choices, only populated areas have a lot of people.” By providing CoT examples paired with rationales in the prompt, the in-context learning ability allows LLMs to output corresponding rationales for future unseen inputs.

We use the few-shot CoT prompting, which contains both an example rationale (highlighted in green) and a label (highlighted in blue), to elicit rationales from an LLM on new input examples. The example is from a commonsense question answering task.

After the rationales are extracted, in the second stage, we incorporate the rationales in training small models by framing the training process as a multi-task problem. Specifically, we train the small model with a novel rationale generation task in addition to the standard label prediction task. The rationale generation task enables the model to learn to generate the intermediate reasoning steps for the prediction, and guides the model to better predict the resultant label. We prepend task prefixes (i.e., [label] and [rationale] for label prediction and rationale generation, respectively) to the input examples for the model to differentiate the two tasks.

Experimental setup

In the experiments, we consider a 540B PaLM model as the LLM. For task-specific downstream models, we use T5 models. For CoT prompting, we use the original CoT prompts when available and curate our own examples for new datasets. We conduct the experiments on four benchmark datasets across three different NLP tasks: e-SNLI and ANLI for natural language inference; CQA for commonsense question answering; and SVAMP for arithmetic math word problems. We include two sets of baseline methods. For comparison to few-shot prompted LLMs, we compare to few-shot CoT prompting with a 540B PaLM model. In the paper, we also compare standard task-specific model training to both standard fine-tuning and standard distillation. In this blogpost, we will focus on the comparisons to standard fine-tuning for illustration purposes.

Less training data

Compared to standard fine-tuning, the distilling step-by-step method achieves better performance using much less training data. For instance, on the e-SNLI dataset, we achieve better performance than standard fine-tuning when using only 12.5% of the full dataset (shown in the upper left quadrant below). Similarly, we achieve a dataset size reduction of 75%, 25% and 20% on ANLI, CQA, and SVAMP.

Distilling step-by-step compared to standard fine-tuning using 220M T5 models on varying sizes of human-labeled datasets. On all datasets, distilling step-by-step is able to outperform standard fine-tuning, trained on the full dataset, by using much less training examples.

Smaller deployed model size

Compared to few-shot CoT prompted LLMs, distilling step-by-step achieves better performance using much smaller model sizes. For instance, on the e-SNLI dataset, we achieve better performance than 540B PaLM by using a 220M T5 model. On ANLI, we achieve better performance than 540B PaLM by using a 770M T5 model, which is over 700X smaller. Note that on ANLI, the same 770M T5 model struggles to match PaLM’s performance using standard fine-tuning.

We perform distilling step-by-step and standard fine-tuning on varying sizes of T5 models and compare their performance to LLM baselines, i.e., Few-shot CoT and PINTO Tuning. Distilling step-by-step is able to outperform LLM baselines by using much smaller models, e.g., over 700× smaller models on ANLI. Standard fine-tuning fails to match LLM’s performance using the same model size.

Distilling step-by-step outperforms few-shot LLMs with smaller models using less data

Finally, we explore the smallest model sizes and the least amount of data for distilling step-by-step to outperform PaLM’s few-shot performance. For instance, on ANLI, we surpass the performance of the 540B PaLM using a 770M T5 model. This smaller model only uses 80% of the full dataset. Meanwhile, we observe that standard fine-tuning cannot catch up with PaLM’s performance even using 100% of the full dataset. This suggests that distilling step-by-step simultaneously reduces the model size as well as the amount of data required to outperform LLMs.

We show the minimum size of T5 models and the least amount of human-labeled examples required for distilling step-by-step to outperform LLM’s few-shot CoT by a coarse-grained search. Distilling step-by-step is able to outperform few-shot CoT using not only much smaller models, but it also achieves so with much less training examples compared to standard fine-tuning.


We propose distilling step-by-step, a novel mechanism that extracts rationales from LLMs as informative supervision in training small, task-specific models. We show that distilling step-by-step reduces both the training dataset required to curate task-specific smaller models and the model size required to achieve, and even surpass, a few-shot prompted LLM’s performance. Overall, distilling step-by-step presents a resource-efficient paradigm that tackles the trade-off between model size and training data required.

Availability on Google Cloud Platform

Distilling step-by-step is available for private preview on Vertex AI. If you are interested in trying it out, please contact vertex-llm-tuning-preview@google.com with your Google Cloud Project number and a summary of your use case.


This research was conducted by Cheng-Yu Hsieh, Chun-Liang Li, Chih-Kuan Yeh, Hootan Nakhost, Yasuhisa Fujii, Alexander Ratner, Ranjay Krishna, Chen-Yu Lee, and Tomas Pfister. Thanks to Xiang Zhang and Sergey Ioffe for their valuable feedback.

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MediaPipe FaceStylizer: On-device real-time few-shot face stylization

Posted by Haolin Jia, Software Engineer, and Qifei Wang, Senior Software Engineer, Core ML

In recent years, we have witnessed rising interest across consumers and researchers in integrated augmented reality (AR) experiences using real-time face feature generation and editing functions in mobile applications, including short videos, virtual reality, and gaming. As a result, there is a growing demand for lightweight, yet high-quality face generation and editing models, which are often based on generative adversarial network (GAN) techniques. However, the majority of GAN models suffer from high computational complexity and the need for a large training dataset. In addition, it is also important to employ GAN models responsibly.

In this post, we introduce MediaPipe FaceStylizer, an efficient design for few-shot face stylization that addresses the aforementioned model complexity and data efficiency challenges while being guided by Google’s responsible AI Principles. The model consists of a face generator and a face encoder used as GAN inversion to map the image into latent code for the generator. We introduce a mobile-friendly synthesis network for the face generator with an auxiliary head that converts features to RGB at each level of the generator to generate high quality images from coarse to fine granularities. We also carefully designed the loss functions for the aforementioned auxiliary heads and combined them with the common GAN loss functions to distill the student generator from the teacher StyleGAN model, resulting in a lightweight model that maintains high generation quality. The proposed solution is available in open source through MediaPipe. Users can fine-tune the generator to learn a style from one or a few images using MediaPipe Model Maker, and deploy to on-device face stylization applications with the customized model using MediaPipe FaceStylizer.

Few-shot on-device face stylization

An end-to-end pipeline

Our goal is to build a pipeline to support users to adapt the MediaPipe FaceStylizer to different styles by fine-tuning the model with a few examples. To enable such a face stylization pipeline, we built the pipeline with a GAN inversion encoder and efficient face generator model (see below). The encoder and generator pipeline can then be adapted to different styles via a few-shot learning process. The user first sends a single or a few similar samples of the style images to MediaPipe ModelMaker to fine-tune the model. The fine-tuning process freezes the encoder module and only fine-tunes the generator. The training process samples multiple latent codes close to the encoding output of the input style images as the input to the generator. The generator is then trained to reconstruct an image of a person’s face in the style of the input style image by optimizing a joint adversarial loss function that also accounts for style and content. With such a fine-tuning process, the MediaPipe FaceStylizer can adapt to the customized style, which approximates the user’s input. It can then be applied to stylize test images of real human faces.

Generator: BlazeStyleGAN

The StyleGAN model family has been widely adopted for face generation and various face editing tasks. To support efficient on-device face generation, we based the design of our generator on StyleGAN. This generator, which we call BlazeStyleGAN, is similar to StyleGAN in that it also contains a mapping network and synthesis network. However, since the synthesis network of StyleGAN is the major contributor to the model’s high computation complexity, we designed and employed a more efficient synthesis network. The improved efficiency and generation quality is achieved by:

Reducing the latent feature dimension in the synthesis network to a quarter of the resolution of the counterpart layers in the teacher StyleGAN,

Designing multiple auxiliary heads to transform the downscaled feature to the image domain to form a coarse-to-fine image pyramid to evaluate the perceptual quality of the reconstruction, and

Skipping all but the final auxiliary head at inference time.

With the newly designed architecture, we train the BlazeStyleGAN model by distilling it from a teacher StyleGAN model. We use a multi-scale perceptual loss and adversarial loss in the distillation to transfer the high fidelity generation capability from the teacher model to the student BlazeStyleGAN model and also to mitigate the artifacts from the teacher model.

More details of the model architecture and training scheme can be found in our paper.

Visual comparison between face samples generated by StyleGAN and BlazeStyleGAN. The images on the first row are generated by the teacher StyleGAN. The images on the second row are generated by the student BlazeStyleGAN. The face generated by BlazeStyleGAN has similar visual quality to the image generated by the teacher model. Some results demonstrate the student BlazeStyleGAN suppresses the artifacts from the teacher model in the distillation.

In the above figure, we demonstrate some sample results of our BlazeStyleGAN. By comparing with the face image generated by the teacher StyleGAN model (top row), the images generated by the student BlazeStyleGAN (bottom row) maintain high visual quality and further reduce artifacts produced by the teacher due to the loss function design in our distillation.

An encoder for efficient GAN inversion

To support image-to-image stylization, we also introduced an efficient GAN inversion as the encoder to map input images to the latent space of the generator. The encoder is defined by a MobileNet V2 backbone and trained with natural face images. The loss is defined as a combination of image perceptual quality loss, which measures the content difference, style similarity and embedding distance, as well as the L1 loss between the input images and reconstructed images.

On-device performance

We documented model complexities in terms of parameter numbers and computing FLOPs in the following table. Compared to the teacher StyleGAN (33.2M parameters), BlazeStyleGAN (generator) significantly reduces the model complexity, with only 2.01M parameters and 1.28G FLOPs for output resolution 256×256. Compared to StyleGAN-1024 (generating image size of 1024×1024), the BlazeStyleGAN-1024 can reduce both model size and computation complexity by 95% with no notable quality difference and can even suppress the artifacts from the teacher StyleGAN model.

Image Size
#Params (M)






Model complexity measured by parameter numbers and FLOPs.

We benchmarked the inference time of the MediaPipe FaceStylizer on various high-end mobile devices and demonstrated the results in the table below. From the results, both BlazeStyleGAN-256 and BlazeStyleGAN-512 achieved real-time performance on all GPU devices. It can run in less than 10 ms runtime on a high-end phone’s GPU. BlazeStyleGAN-256 can also achieve real-time performance on the iOS devices’ CPU.

BlazeStyleGAN-256 (ms)
Encoder-256 (ms)

iPhone 11

iPhone 12

iPhone 13 Pro

Pixel 6

Samsung Galaxy S10

Samsung Galaxy S20

Latency benchmark of the BlazeStyleGAN, face encoder, and the end-to-end pipeline on various mobile devices.

Fairness evaluation

The model has been trained with a high diversity dataset of human faces. The model is expected to be fair to different human faces. The fairness evaluation demonstrates the model performs good and balanced in terms of human gender, skin-tone, and ages.

Face stylization visualization

Some face stylization results are demonstrated in the following figure. The images in the top row (in orange boxes) represent the style images used to fine-tune the model. The images in the left column (in the green boxes) are the natural face images used for testing. The 2×4 matrix of images represents the output of the MediaPipe FaceStylizer which is blending outputs between the natural faces on the left-most column and the corresponding face styles on the top row. The results demonstrate that our solution can achieve high-quality face stylization for several popular styles.

Sample results of our MediaPipe FaceStylizer.

MediaPipe Solutions

The MediaPipe FaceStylizer is going to be released to public users in MediaPipe Solutions. Users can leverage MediaPipe Model Maker to train a customized face stylization model using their own style images. After training, the exported bundle of TFLite model files can be deployed to applications across platforms (Android, iOS, Web, Python, etc.) using the MediaPipe Tasks FaceStylizer API in just a few lines of code.


This work is made possible through a collaboration spanning several teams across Google. We’d like to acknowledge contributions from Omer Tov, Yang Zhao, Andrey Vakunov, Fei Deng, Ariel Ephrat, Inbar Mosseri, Lu Wang, Chuo-Ling Chang, Tingbo Hou, and Matthias Grundmann.

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On-device content distillation with graph neural networks

Posted by Gabriel Barcik and Duc-Hieu Tran, Research Engineers, Google Research

In today’s digital age, smartphones and desktop web browsers serve as the primary tools for accessing news and information. However, the proliferation of website clutter — encompassing complex layouts, navigation elements, and extraneous links — significantly impairs both the reading experience and article navigation. This issue is particularly acute for individuals with accessibility requirements.

To improve the user experience and make reading more accessible, Android and Chrome users may leverage the Reading Mode feature, which enhances accessibility by processing webpages to allow customizable contrast, adjustable text size, more legible fonts, and to enable text-to-speech utilities. Additionally, Android’s Reading Mode is equipped to distill content from apps. Expanding Reading Mode to encompass a wide array of content and improving its performance, while still operating locally on the user’s device without transmitting data externally, poses a unique challenge.

To broaden Reading Mode capabilities without compromising privacy, we have developed a novel on-device content distillation model. Unlike early attempts using DOM Distiller — a heuristic approach limited to news articles — our model excels in both quality and versatility across various types of content. We ensure that article content doesn’t leave the confines of the local environment. Our on-device content distillation model smoothly transforms long-form content into a simple and customizable layout for a more pleasant reading journey while also outperforming the leading alternative approaches. Here we explore details of this research highlighting our approach, methodology, and results.

Graph neural networks

Instead of relying on complicated heuristics that are difficult to maintain and scale to a variety of article layouts, we approach this task as a fully supervised learning problem. This data-driven approach allows the model to generalize better across different layouts, without the constraints and fragility of heuristics. Previous work for optimizing the reading experience relied on HTML or parsing, filtering, and modeling of a document object model (DOM), a programming interface automatically generated by the user’s web browser from site HTML that represents the structure of a document and allows it to be manipulated.

The new Reading Mode model relies on accessibility trees, which provide a streamlined and more accessible representation of the DOM. Accessibility trees are automatically generated from the DOM tree and are utilized by assistive technologies to allow people with disabilities to interact with web content. These are available on Chrome Web browser and on Android through AccessibilityNodeInfo objects, which are provided for both WebView and native application content.

We started by manually collecting and annotating accessibility trees. The Android dataset used for this project comprises on the order of 10k labeled examples, while the Chrome dataset contains approximately 100k labeled examples. We developed a novel tool that uses graph neural networks (GNNs) to distill essential content from the accessibility trees using a multi-class supervised learning approach. The datasets consist of long-form articles sampled from the web and labeled with classes such as headline, paragraph, images, publication date, etc.

GNNs are a natural choice for dealing with tree-like data structures, because unlike traditional models that often demand detailed, hand-crafted features to understand the layout and links within such trees, GNNs learn these connections naturally. To illustrate this, consider the analogy of a family tree. In such a tree, each node represents a family member and the connections denote familial relationships. If one were to predict certain traits using conventional models, features like the “number of immediate family members with a trait” might be needed. However, with GNNs, such manual feature crafting becomes redundant. By directly feeding the tree structure into the model, GNNs utilize a message-passing mechanism where each node communicates with its neighbors. Over time, information gets shared and accumulated across the network, enabling the model to naturally discern intricate relationships.

Returning to the context of accessibility trees, this means that GNNs can efficiently distill content by understanding and leveraging the inherent structure and relationships within the tree. This capability allows them to identify and possibly omit non-essential sections based on the information flow within the tree, ensuring more accurate content distillation.

Our architecture heavily follows the encode-process-decode paradigm using a message-passing neural network to classify text nodes. The overall design is illustrated in the figure below. The tree representation of the article is the input to the model. We compute lightweight features based on bounding box information, text information, and accessibility roles. The GNN then propagates each node’s latent representation through the edges of the tree using a message-passing neural network. This propagation process allows nearby nodes, containers, and text elements to share contextual information with each other, enhancing the model’s understanding of the page’s structure and content. Each node then updates its current state based on the message received, providing a more informed basis for classifying the nodes. After a fixed number of message-passing steps, the now contextualized latent representations of the nodes are decoded into essential or non-essential classes. This approach enables the model to leverage both the inherent relationships in the tree and the hand-crafted features representing each node, thereby enriching the final classification.

A visual demonstration of the algorithm in action, processing an article on a mobile device. A graph neural network (GNN) is used to distill essential content from an article. 1. A tree representation of the article is extracted from the application. 2. Lightweight features are computed for each node, represented as vectors. 3. A message-passing neural network propagates information through the edges of the tree and updates each node representation. 4. Leaf nodes containing text content are classified as essential or non-essential content. 5. A decluttered version of the application is composed based on the GNN output.

We deliberately restrict the feature set used by the model to increase its broad generalization across languages and speed up inference latency on user devices. This was a unique challenge, as we needed to create an on-device lightweight model that could preserve privacy.

Our final lightweight Android model has 64k parameters and is 334kB in size with a median latency of 800ms, while the Chrome model has 241k parameters, is 928kB in size, and has a 378ms median latency. By employing such on-device processing, we ensure that user data never leaves the device, reinforcing our responsible approach and commitment to user privacy. The features used in the model can be grouped into intermediate node features, leaf-node text features, and element position features. We performed feature engineering and feature selection to optimize the set of features for model performance and model size. The final model was transformed into TensorFlow Lite format to deploy as an on-device model on Android or Chrome.


We trained the GNN for about 50 epochs in a single GPU. The performance of the Android model on webpages and native application test sets is presented below:
The table presents the content distillation metrics in Android for webpages and native apps. We report precision, recall and F1-score for three classes: non-essential content, headline, and main body text, including macro average and weighted average by number of instances in each class. Node metrics assess the classification performance at the granularity of the accessibility tree node, which is analogous to a paragraph level. In contrast, word metrics evaluate classification at an individual word level, meaning each word within a node gets the same classification.