AAAI Publications, Thirtieth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence

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Transfer Learning from Deep Features for Remote Sensing and Poverty Mapping
Michael Xie, Neal Jean, Marshall Burke, David Lobell, Stefano Ermon

Last modified: 2016-11-02


The lack of reliable data in developing countries is a major obstacle to sustainable development, food security, and disaster relief. Poverty data, for example, is typically scarce, sparse in coverage, and labor-intensive to obtain. Remote sensing data such as high-resolution satellite imagery, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly available and inexpensive. Unfortunately, such data is highly unstructured and currently no techniques exist to automatically extract useful insights to inform policy decisions and help direct humanitarian efforts. We propose a novel machine learning approach to extract large-scale socioeconomic indicators from high-resolution satellite imagery. The main challenge is that training data is very scarce, making it difficult to apply modern techniques such as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN). We therefore propose a transfer learning approach where nighttime light intensities are used as a data-rich proxy. We train a fully convolutional CNN model to predict nighttime lights from daytime imagery, simultaneously learning features that are useful for poverty prediction. The model learns filters identifying different terrains and man-made structures, including roads, buildings, and farmlands, without any supervision beyond nighttime lights. We demonstrate that these learned features are highly informative for poverty mapping, even approaching the predictive performance of survey data collected in the field.


Deep Learning, Computer Vision, Poverty Mapping, Remote Sensing, Satellite Imagery, Transfer Learning

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