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AI Can See America's Wealth Inequality From Space
Just by looking at satellite images, AI can predict your income bracket, and tell us what wealth and poverty look like from space.
What does wealth look like… from space? This is the question researchers from Carnegie Mellon University wanted to answer when they built Penny. Penny is an AI built on machine learning using neural networks. Through an interactive website Penny lets you browse satellite images of New York City and St. Louis and see how different kinds of features make an area look wealthy or poor to the AI.
To build Penny, the researchers used household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau, mapped it, and overlaid it with satellite imagery. They color-coded areas to represent different income brackets. In the picture below, green represents areas with the highest quartile of annual income (averaging $71,876 and above), red represents areas with the lowest annual income (averaging $34,176 and below) and orange and yellow represent the middle levels of income (averaging between $34,176 and $49,904, and $49,904 and $71,876, respectively).
Census data mapped and color coded / penny.digitalglobe.com
The two layers of data — the color-coded map and the satellite images — were then given to a neural network which was trained to predict the average household incomes in any area in the city. The AI looks for patterns in the imagery that correlate with census data. Over time, the neural network learns what patterns best predict high and low income levels. The model can then be used to predict income levels for a place, just by looking at a satellite image.
So, what do wealth and poverty look like from space? Some of the correlations that Penny found were that lower income areas, for example, tend to have baseball diamonds, parking lots, and large similarly shaped buildings (such as housing projects). In middle income areas there were more single-family homes and apartment buildings. Higher income areas tend to have greener spaces, tall shiny buildings, and single-family homes with lush backyards.
Patterns of low-income areas / penny.digitalglobe.com
Patterns of high-income areas / penny.digitalglobe.com
There has also been other research concerned with estimating wealth from satellite data. Scientists from the University of Konstanz found that it is possible to make inferences about the wealth of a region, as well as individual settlements, by measuring the amount of nighttime illumination.
An interesting feature of Penny is that the tool lets you play around with the landscape of the city, by adding and removing urban features like buildings, parks, and freeways. After making the changes, Penny makes a new estimate on the income bracket of the block.
Penny's interface allows the users to drag and drop urban features on the map. / penny.digitalglobe.com
The researchers are hoping to spark a conversation about artificial intelligence, machine learning, cities, infrastructure, satellite imagery, and big data. The way machines understand these things has increasingly important implications for how we understand patterns of urbanization, wealth, and the human condition.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is.
What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.