Facebook is using A.I. to create the world’s most detailed population maps

It’s probably fair to say that Facebook hasn’t had a banner year when it comes to good publicity. What just a few years ago seemed like a benevolent and cool tech giant is often now cast in a negative light, largely due to the lingering effects of controversies like the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But Facebook is working hard to show that that its expertise in A.I. has a valuable role to play as a force for good in the world.

With that in mind, A.I. experts and data scientists at Facebook have today shown off the world’s most accurate population density maps yet created. Building on work that dates back to 2016, the company has unveiled maps covering the majority of the African continent. Eventually, it says that this will expand to map nearly the whole world’s population. This will allow humanitarian agencies to determine how populations are distributed even in remote areas; opening up new opportunities for healthcare and relief workers to be able to distribute aid where necessary.

“[Our population density maps] are 3x more detailed than any other population map available,” James Gill, a software engineer at Facebook, told Digital Trends. “On the technology side, we have to address data infrastructure on a massive scale, developing spatial algorithms that work with interesting computation graph topologies, novel labeling techniques, and apply state-of-the-art research in machine learning … On the impact side, our work informs life-saving service delivery like vaccination delivery and natural disaster response. So it’s very exciting both from a technical perspective, as well as from an impact perspective.”

Facebook stressed that no Facebook user data has been, or will be, used in the project. The population maps are instead based on census and satellite data, which contain no personally identifiable information. To create its dwelling-spotting A.I., the company built a tool that can take extremely high-resolution satellite data (50 cm of land per pixel) and then cross-reference it with census data to build up an accurate picture of how many people live in an area. While this could be done manually using satellite images, it would be incredibly time-consuming and tedious. Facebook’s algorithms can achieve the same thing with an accuracy level of 99.6 percent.

The results are interesting from a computer science perspective. From a human perspective, however, they could be life-saving in a humanitarian situation. See, this is kind the of Facebook we want to see more of!

Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Gaming

Get Nindie with it and check out these awesome indie games for the Switch

The Nintendo Switch's portability makes indies feel at home on the platform. Luckily, there are plenty of great titles to choose from. Here are our picks for the best Nintendo Switch indie games.
Gaming

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.
Features

Exclusive: The Surface Hub 2S will revolutionize work. Here’s how it was made

Exclusive interviews with the designers, futurists, and visionaries behind the Surface Hub 2 paint a dramatic picture of how Microsoft thinks collaboration will change your office.
Emerging Tech

Adidas has created a running shoe that’s made to be remade

Adidas has unveiled the Futurecraft Loop running shoe that it claims is the first performance footwear to be 100% recyclable. The shoe is the latest green initiative by the sportswear company and will go on sale in 2021.
Emerging Tech

Yale scientists restore cellular activity in a pig’s brain hours after its death

In what some may view as a porcine version of Frankenstein, Yale University scientists have restored circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death. The study is likely to be used to study brain function
Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Russia’s robot news anchor gives human TV presenters hope

Human news anchors anxious about robots taking their jobs will be feeling reassured this week after the appearance on Russian TV of a news-reading android that clearly needs a bit of work.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.
Emerging Tech

U.S., U.K. embrace autonomous robot spy subs that can stay at sea for months

Unmanned, autonomous robot spy submarines that are able to stay at sea for months at a time may be coming to both the United States and its ally across the pond, the U.K. Here's what we know so far.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.
Emerging Tech

Planet-hunting satellite discovers its first Earth-sized planet

NASA's planet hunting satellite, TESS, has made a new discovery. Last month the satellite discovered its first exoplanet. And now it has achieved another milestone, locating its first Earth-sized planet and a larger sibling planet.