Facebook’s quest to get the world online is paying some unexpected dividends. Its Connectivity Lab is using image recognition technology to create population density maps that are much more accurate (to within 10m) than previous data sets — where earlier examples are little more than blobs, Facebook shows even the finer aspects of individual neighborhoods. The trick was to modify the internet giant’s existing neural network so that it could quickly determine whether or not buildings are present in satellite images.
- Facebook’s Connectivity Lab today released its high-resolution population maps for Malawi, South Africa, Ghana, Haiti and Sri Lanka, with the promise to make more datasets available over the coming months.
- The population maps are a joint effort between the Facebook Connectivity Lab, Columbia University and the World Bank, though Facebook is interested in the project as part of its effort to launch wireless communication services in rural regions around the globe.
- Facebook and friends used software to identify buildings in commercially available satellite images, and then estimated population using census data and a few other surveys and programs
“of the 23 countries it studied, 99 percent of the population lives within 63 km of the nearest city, with 44 percent of people living in cities.”