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Satellite Images Can Map Poverty (bbc.com) 120

A new study using satellite images and machine learning plans to map poverty from space in an effort to "fix the world's problems." Satellite imagery can be less dangerous, slow and expensive than gathering the data on the ground. BBC reports: "A team from Stanford University were able to train a computer system to identify impoverished areas from satellite and survey data in five African countries. The latest study looked at daylight images that capture features such as paved roads and metal roofs -- markers that can help distinguish different levels of economic wellbeing in developing countries. They then used a sophisticated computer model to categorize the various indicators in daytime satellite images of Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi. 'If you give a computer enough data it can figure out what to look for. We trained a computer model to find things in imagery that are predictive of poverty,' said Dr Burke. 'It finds things like roads, like urban areas, like farmland, it finds waterways -- those are things we recognize. It also finds things we don't recognize. It finds patterns in imagery that to you or I don't really look like anything... but it's something the computer has figured out is predictive of where poor people are.' The researchers used imagery from countries for which survey data were available to validate the computer model's findings." The results of the study are published in the journal Science.
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Satellite Images Can Map Poverty

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 18, 2016 @10:43PM (#52730397)

    It's the only way to be sure

  • I don't have one.

    They are expensive.

    Altho, I didn't think i was living in poverty.

    • by jedZ ( 571869 )
      I think they meant to contrast metal roofs (poverty) with paved roads (more developed areas). It's quite clear from the picture even if you didn't bother with the actual article
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      A steel roof certainly costs more than the asphalt shingles used it the US. You might think using shingles was a sign of poverty, except that American homes are the size of African airport terminals.

      • My wife called the standard roof in Sierra Leone a "zinc" roof, but I believe it's just corrugated aluminum, not steel. Walls are usually concrete; apparently they don't insulate. I'm not sure what the poor people's huts use for roofs.
        • It's probably galvanized steel, a mid grade steel plated with zinc to prevent corrosion.

          • by quenda ( 644621 )

            It's probably galvanized steel, a mid grade steel plated with zinc to prevent corrosion.

            Around here, zinc-galvanised corrugated steel has been mostly replaced by ZINCALUME® steel, which has a zinc/aluminium alloy coating.
            Much shinier than aged zinc galvo, and looks a bit like aluminium. Probably what Locke saw in in Sierra Leone. Lasts much longer.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          My wife called the standard roof in Sierra Leone a "zinc" roof, but I believe it's just corrugated aluminum, not steel. Walls are usually concrete; apparently they don't insulate. I'm not sure what the poor people's huts use for roofs.

          Sheet metal, if they can scrounge it, thatch if they can find it, tar paper, fiberglass panels or anything mostly flat and reasonably weatherproof when all else fails.

          In drier climates, the roof, like the walls, can be made of mud (adobe), but then you have to be able to get enough support beams to plaster the mud over.

          You make do with whatever you have. Whereas the more affluent have more choices.

    • Metals roofs are AWESOME. And expensive. usually a $1 per foot, 24 inches wide for a small overlap between 15 inch rafters and 8 to 20 feet long. You can collect water with them, but the tin coating is washed with toxic chemicals. I would advise only using it for gardening, probably still better than the chlorine fluoride crap we get from municipal. Also boiling collected water and then avoiding the minerals left at the bottom would probably be safe for consumption (except that usually leaves behind th
      • by Anonymous Coward

        There's a difference between a metal roof made of regular metal panels treated to be corrosion-resistant and a metal roof made from hammering out junk automobile sheet metal, rusting corrugated panels, dismantled shipping containers, and whatever else one can find.

        A very visible difference.

    • You are thinking about 1st world metal roofs. Made to high standards for long life and corrosion resistant, and designed to look like other types of roofs, which can last decades longer than normal Shingles.

      Then we have 3rd world metal roofs. You may see these in the States for our tool sheds, and other building that we use to protect inanimate objects from getting too wet in the rain. Low quality tin roof which is easy to setup still may be a bit more expensive than shingles. However the roof can be const

  • Yep... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @10:58PM (#52730455)

    ...already knew that. And it's not quite as hard as they make out [american.edu].

  • What's the opposite of *follow the money*?

  • Waste of resources. We already have this data. All you have to do is find any place for which Google Maps doesn't store full-resolution pictures.

  • If it is really helpful to identify the Poor from those countries it is good....
  • Couldn't similar technology be used to seek out hungry people and launch guided bananas at them?

  • I always thought the GIS community was still too unfamiliar with remote sensing. Apparently it also is the case the other way round. They have made a spatial analysis of a classified remote sensing image. This has been done in a lot of fields. Geologists, hydrologists and other experts have been making maps using remote sensing images for some time. In this case they mapped the parameter "poverty".

  • Damn hard to find on the ground ...

  • by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @07:30AM (#52731583)
    I would think locating poverty isn't the problem. Do we really not know where the poor people are? The article is all about some huge international agency making a determination where best to send aid. I'll go out on a limb and say satellite imagery isn't going to make any of those more effective.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      I'll go out on a limb and say satellite imagery isn't going to make any of those more effective.

      What they're trying to make more effective is the UN's control of resources. Whether the UN uses those resources effectively is a separate issue.

    • I would think locating poverty isn't the problem. Do we really not know where the poor people are? The article is all about some huge international agency making a determination where best to send aid. I'll go out on a limb and say satellite imagery isn't going to make any of those more effective.

      Here's a quote from the paper in question. Sure, we know where impoverished people are in a general sense. What we lack is the data required for effective decisions regarding aid and developmental assistance.

      Although the quantity and quality of economic data available in developing countries have improved in recent years, data on key measures of economic development are still lacking for much of the developing world. This data gap is hampering efforts to identify and understand variation in these outcomes

      • That is an awesome example, thank you. It also illustrates my vaguely hinted at point that a large centralized agency isn't flexible enough to make good decisions. At the scale of New Zealand, you example shows how a change in circumstances can't be effectively adapted to. Imagine how much worse it is at a global scale.
  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @08:12AM (#52731725) Journal

    Once we have found the poor what is the next step? Drone Strike?

    • The next step is to bribe the local rulers and set up sweatshops, and use the guise of 'free trade' to import the goods made by slaves and child labor without the hassle of environmental protection or labor laws.
  • I don't know why this is news. Givedirectly.org has been doing this for years. (https://www.givedirectly.org/operating-model)
  • Given the absolute poverty that overwhelmingly covers the Continent [borgenproject.org], it would be better to map areas WITHOUT poverty as they are few and far between (even Libya has a 33% poverty rate).
  • I guess ivory towers are outdated.
  • Satellite imagery can be less dangerous, slow and expensive than gathering the data on the ground.

    The opposite of less dangerous, slow and expensive is not the same as safer, faster and cheaper... although I think that is what you meant.

    Phrasing things in the positive is usually not as less unclear.

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