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Where is Everybody? Facebook Use AI Global Mapping to Find Out

Engadget
If you build it, they will come, but not if they can't find you, and certainly not if you can't find them. It can be easy to forget at times that despite the Earth's human population being over 7 billion, we actually cover less than 10% of the planet. Concentrated areas of population are easy to locate and keep track of, not only because they're large, but because they're connected. The more removed from that humanity becomes, the more its online presence fades, until it vanishes altogether.

These remote pockets of society are the ones Facebook are interested in reaching. The trouble is, to do that, you need to know where the hell they are. It's all very well spending inordinate amounts of capital on huge drones capable of beaming internet access down from on high, but it's like the first principle of photography - point and shoot. They need to know where to point before they can shoot. In order to figure this out, Facebook have turned their hands to AI, once again.

Utilising deep learning, they've created a map of the planet which, through image analysis, can pinpoint populated areas. Through this data, Facebook are able to map out the flight plans that their Aquila drones will follow once they're launched. The data has fundamentally changed the way the drones are being developed. Originally, they were designed to fly in a circular pattern over one large area of land, bathing it in wireless signal. The mapping has shown that pockets of population are too scattered for this to make any sense, instead, the drones are being modified to target the signals directly at the populated areas.

This technology has implications far beyond what Facebook are doing with Internet.org, though. At present, 20 countries have been mapped, across 21.6 million square kilometers. As the sophistication of the scanning increases, and it will, because that's exactly how deep learning works, it will be able to hunt for human artifacts with a resolution of 5 square meters across all of the distance it already covers. Combine that with local census data and all of a sudden you've got some of the most accurate national population density figures ever recorded. That's kind of a big deal.

How effective the Aquila drones will actually be, even with this data available to them, remains to be seen, but this approach represents a huge leap forward in deep learning implementation. Facial recognition is all well and good, but the notion that we could soon have a map of the planet so accurate that it can locate humanity even at its most remote and concealed is extremely exciting. It could save lives.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Where is Everybody? Facebook Use AI Global Mapping to Find Out Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 Rating: 5

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