Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Using deep learning and Google Street View to estimate the socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods

Timnit Gebru and her colleagues have recently published a very interesting paper in PNAS. The authors developed a method to analyze car images from Google Street View using machine-learning and computer vision methods to determine socioeconomic statistics and political preferences at the zip code level in the US. There is a video of Timnit Gebru presenting the paper here

Gebru, T., Krause, J., Wang, Y., Chen, D., Deng, J., Aiden, E. L., & Fei-Fei, L. (2017). Using deep learning and Google Street View to estimate the demographic makeup of neighborhoods across the United States. PNAS 2017 : 1700035114v1-201700035 [arxiv version here]

Abstract:
The United States spends more than $250 million each year on the American Community Survey (ACS), a labor-intensive door-to-door study that measures statistics relating to race, gender, education, occupation, unemployment, and other demographic factors. Although a comprehensive source of data, the lag between demographic changes and their appearance in the ACS can exceed several years. As digital imagery becomes ubiquitous and machine vision techniques improve, automated data analysis may become an increasingly practical supplement to the ACS. Here, we present a method that estimates socioeconomic characteristics of regions spanning 200 US cities by using 50 million images of street scenes gathered with Google Street View cars. Using deep learning-based computer vision techniques, we determined the make, model, and year of all motor vehicles encountered in particular neighborhoods. Data from this census of motor vehicles, which enumerated 22 million automobiles in total (8% of all automobiles in the United States), were used to accurately estimate income, race, education, and voting patterns at the zip code and precinct level. (The average US precinct contains ∼∼1,000 people.) The resulting associations are surprisingly simple and powerful. For instance, if the number of sedans encountered during a drive through a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, the city is likely to vote for a Democrat during the next presidential election (88% chance); otherwise, it is likely to vote Republican (82%). Our results suggest that automated systems for monitoring demographics may effectively complement labor-intensive approaches, with the potential to measure demographics with fine spatial resolution, in close to real time.


cities used to train a model estimating socioeconomic data from car attributes 



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