Using AI to Map Better Distribution of Social Goods

The effectiveness of social goods often comes down to distribution. Can you put social goods in the hand of the people who need and want them? This is a huge challenge in the informal settlements in the world’s urban areas. A team of university researchers, government agencies, and software companies are showing how AI improves distribution for social goods.

Approximately a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements that have no access to infrastructure. These areas lack maps, street names, building numbers. Distribution is a core function of marketing social goods. But, you can’t reach people when you don’t know where they live.

Informal settlements suffer at a higher rate from the five villains of the social good: illness, idleness, ignorance, want, and squalor. This shows up as increased unemployment, communicable diseases, and sexual violence, not to mention malnutrition and poverty.

The struggles of these settlements only become harder during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and wildfires. If aid workers don’t know a settlement exists, they won’t know to help in times of need.

As part of the Frontier Development Lab Europe program, researchers from several universities applied artificial intelligence to existing satellite imagery to map the size and location of informal settlements around the world.

Better information and visualization of the size and location of informal settlements means that people in need of social goods can be seen, counted, and reached.

To dive deeper into how AI improves distribution for social goods, you can read the paper describing this work and download the open source code. Kudos to tech company Nvidia for supporting this work and promoting it on their blog.

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

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