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Facebook AI Maps Population Density

Facebook expects to release its worldwide maps of human density in the coming months—potential applications will likely be somewhere on the spectrum between humanitarian and commercial.
April 11, 2019, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Counting population density isn't always this easy.

James Vincent reports on Facebook's project to map the world's population density using artificial intelligence (AI), which the social media company launched in 2016.

Vincent's coverage follows a blog post from Facebook updating progress for the project.

As Facebook explains, creating maps like this is a challenging job for humans. Although we have high-resolution satellite imagery that covers pretty much every corner of the globe, turning this into useful information is a time-consuming process. To create population density maps, for example, humans have to label each building in the images, then cross-reference this with census data. This is particularly tricky in the African continent where census tracts can cover regions as large as 150,000 square miles but contain just 55,000 people.

Facebook is hacking the tedium of the project of mapping the world with the help of AI. "To automate this process, Facebook’s engineers used data from open-source mapping project Open Street Map to train a computer vision system that can recognize buildings in satellite imagery. They then used this to remove the vast majority of the satellite data that showed unoccupied land," according to Vincent.

Facebook's post emphasizes potential humanitarian applications for the mapping project. Vincent, however, suggests that the maps have obvious commercial applications as well.

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Published on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 in The Verge
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