So instead of waiting for somebody else to build a better map for it, Facebook decided to take high-res satellite images and use machine learning to map every house in these photos.
Facebook’s Jay Parikh, its global head of engineering and infrastructure, and Yael Maguire, the director and head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, walked a small group of journalists through the rationale and process for creating these maps.
“Our goal is to figure out how we can develop technologies and understanding how we can connect every person on the planet,” Maguire said. Currently, the best source of population data is a map from Columbia University, but it’s not detailed enough because it only offers a 1km resolution. “If we want to think about the best technology to connect people — especially outside of the cities, this is a very misleading piece of information.”
About a year ago, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab teamed up with the company’s AI group and data science team.
For this first run, Facebook looked at imagery from 20 countries that covers a total of 21.6 million square kilometers. In total, Facebook’s AI team crunched 14.6 billion images. To find evidence of human settlement in the images, the team used standard machine learning techniques. It trained the algorithm to figure out which images contain evidence of human settlement by giving it a large training set and then letting it do its thing, using a few thousand machines in Facebook’s data centers.
The result of this work is the most detailed map of human settlement currently available for these countries.
“This data set is something we are very excited about,” Maguire said. “We are interested in getting feedback from the global community on how it can be used for connectivity analysis.”
Facebook already partnered with Columbia University to figure out how to make this data available to others and even though Facebook is mostly focusing on connectivity right now, there are probably plenty of other use cases for this data, as well.
Over the next year, we’ll start spending less time on Facebook. Those of us who used it to catch up on the news will find less of it to read. We’ll watch fewer videos, and we’ll see fewer advertisements. In theory, Facebook will make less money off us — or, at least, the rate at which it makes more and more money off us will slow.
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Facebook is rolling out a slight redesign to the News Feed today, which overhauls the main interface of the site for a cleaner look. What that actually translates to in practical terms is getting rid of the blue accents and headers across most of the interface, which the company claims will make navigating easier and more consistent.
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