A team at Facebook recently released detailed information regarding their use of artificial intelligence to bring Internet connectivity to those currently off the net. According to the article, 10% of the world’s population live in parts of the world that do not have Internet connectivity. To solve this issue, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab has built population maps for 20 countries, “using techniques from computer vision to analyze high-resolution satellite imagery"(Ranger).
One of the key elements to solving this problem is by understanding how communities are connected to one another. Through its research, Facebook found that villages along a river or road could be best connected by terrestrial point-to-point links; however, drones or satellites would better serve scattered communities. In order to collect this data, the lab used a conventional image-processing technique to select areas with potential man-made structures and discard images with vast bodies of desert, forest or water. Next, the team trained Facebook’s image recognition engine to detect buildings on the satellite images. Finally, they used a “weakly supervised” neutral network to identify the outlines of the buildings. Through the use of this technology, researchers have analyzed 20 countries and collected 350 TB of imagery over 21.6 square kilometers.
The Connectivity Lab announced that they would release the data publicly this year: “We believe this data has many more impactful applications, such as socio-economic research and risk assessment for natural disasters"(Ranger). If implemented successfully, this advancement will have an extremely positive impact on the communities that do not currently have connectivity to the Internet. The Internet could be used to educate these communities, which would enhance communal security, develop economic ties with other communities/countries, and improve their overall quality of life as a result. It could lead to transit improvements and in turn, physically connect these communities and open up trade opportunities. It would also allow improved health care, security, and overall life styles to these communities. It would also greatly benefit the 90% of the world’s population with Internet connection by having total connectivity across the globe, allowing increased risk management and socioeconomic research worldwide. One negative effect that this connection could have on the communities, however, is that they may not accept or want to be a part of the net because it hinders and/or corrupts their cultural and religious beliefs.