21 June 2016

New Scientist: “Facebook can map more of Earth in a week than we have in history”

We just learned that Facebook’s artificial-intelligence software can probably map more in a week than humanity has mapped over our entire history.

In a blog post, the social network announced that its AI system took two weeks to build a map that covers 4 per cent of our planet. That’s 14 per cent of Earth’s land surface, with 21.6 million square kilometres of photographs taken from space, digested and traced into a digital representation of the roads, buildings and settlements they show. And Facebook says it can do it better and faster, potentially mapping the entire Earth in less than a week.

The stated goal of Facebook’s data-science team is to build maps to help the social network plan how to deliver internet to people who are currently offline. It’s a dubious starting point, but whatever you think about Facebook’s internet colonialism, the company’s drones won’t be able to beam Wi-Fi to the disconnected until they know where they are.

Hal Hodson

Impressive achievement! Could we soon have another competitor in the market for maps besides Google, former Nokia and Apple? It would make sense for Facebook to control this vital source of data to refine its own places database.

Facebook satellite image analysis in Kenya
DigitalGlobe satellite image of Naivasha, Kenya (left) and results of Facebook’s analysis of the same area (right).

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