got geoint? – Trajectory Magazine We are the official publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) – the nonprofit, educational organization supporting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft Mon, 19 Mar 2018 16:16:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 got geoint? – Trajectory Magazine 32 32 127732085 The Importance of Diversity in Cartography Fri, 16 Mar 2018 15:53:34 +0000 Exploring the meaningful influence of female and minority mapmakers

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Female explorers, soldiers, and volunteers have played leading roles in many defining moments throughout the storied history of geospatial science. Sacagawea guided Lewis and Clark’s groundbreaking expedition to survey the western frontier. The Military Mapping Maidens charted roads, land contours, and other strategic locations for the Army Map Service during World War II. STEM pioneers Mary Sears and Marie Tharp are the mothers of modern oceanography and maritime navigation. Yet, the geospatial workforce remains dominated by men.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2014 that, though cartography was projected to grow nearly 30 percent in the next decade, women comprised only 38 percent of its labor force. A GIS Lounge job survey from the same year collected demographic information from 1,186 GIS analysts, developers, managers, executives, and more. Of the respondents, just 37 percent were female.

How does that gender imbalance effect the mapping world? Mainly, it means maps are more likely to address problems visible to the people who create them. For example, male and female responses might differ significantly if asked to map safe walking routes through a city. Or a male open map contributor might fail to make note of women’s health services while tagging healthcare providers in a foreign municipality. Similarly, a heterosexual analyst living in a progressive society might not think to map LGBTQ-safe spaces while tagging locations in a less tolerant country. If diverse perspectives are applied during a map’s creation, the map will be helpful to more diverse populations.

Sarah Holder’s CityLab article “Who Maps the World?” investigates gender equity in mapmaking through the lens of the crowdsourced OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. While OSM volunteers are predominantly male, one area is particularly popular for female cartographers: humanitarian efforts and disaster relief. Participants in OSM’s humanitarian field projects (which work directly with people from the communities being mapped) are 48 percent female, indicating a draw toward work marketed as service-related rather than technological.

Humanitarian relief efforts, more so than other mapping applications (such as self-driving vehicles or smart-city expansion), are intended for more diverse populations. For example, mapping areas of highly concentrated malaria transmission in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia; mapping non-camp refugee data in the Middle East to improve service delivery; or simply mapping infrastructure in densely-populated developing cities like Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

In nations with less social parity, the information delivered by these humanitarian mapping projects has life-changing implications. Women in Africa, South America, and other parts of the world are often forced to either travel long distances for services such as HIV testing and counseling, cancer screenings, and OB-GYN services, or to forgo those services altogether. Many times, these services are available locally, but are not advertised or marked in existing maps. Accurate, up-to-date maps containing information pertinent to women’s health can prevent deaths or injuries as a result of HIV/AIDS and maternal complications—the top two causes of death globally for women ages 15-44.

The Women in GIS organization created a story map using Esri’s ArcGIS platform that visualizes where women work with geospatial information systems around the world. Of the thousands of women represented by this map’s data, the majority live in the United States. To achieve equal (and holistic) cartographic representation, the global mapping community should embrace and uplift women mapmakers with the goal of achieving workforce parity.

Photo Credit: Women in GIS

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The AI of Tomorrow Fri, 09 Mar 2018 16:19:30 +0000 How human-machine teaming, cybersecurity, and battlefield singularity may shape the next decade of defense.

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“An unmanned systems future is inevitable for just about every facet of our lives. We need to deal with it head on,” Brig. Gen. Frank Kelly told the audience at Defense One and Nextgov’s Genius Machines: the Next Decade of Artificial Intelligence event March 7.

AI as it exists today is considered “narrow” in the scope of its applications. Programs such as Google Translate and personalized advertisement selectors are intelligent and effective, but ultra-specific and incapable of fulfilling more than one purpose. To truly harness the power of intelligent systems, industry and government are looking over the horizon to “general” AI capable of tackling wider, more diverse problem sets. General AI could manage a baseball team or help fix a damaged marriage without highly-labeled or pre-defined data.

Defense One technology editor and moderator Patrick Tucker brought up the question of trust: “How do we trust this opaque, complex process to deliver the correct insights?”

The idea isn’t to build artificial systems and let them run amok unsupervised. Instead, companies and agencies are focusing on collaboration between AI and individual analysts, a relationship analogous to that of a police officer and a K-9 unit puppy. The officer raises the puppy based on his own experiences in the field, teaching and building trust with the dog as it becomes more effective. The pup learns how to complete tasks for its human operator and, eventually, the two form a successful team.

But unlike a German shepherd, an AI’s decisions are traceable to the human-made decisions that taught the machine how to react in the first place. Seeing the thought process that led an AI to its conclusion will reassure a user the machine was trained off his or her own work and its analysis is trustworthy.

“We’ve found that the human responders over time begin to build more trust with the AI. Sometimes [people] don’t trust things until we try them out,” said Dr. Edward Chow, manager of the Civil Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Some decisions, though, are still off limits for AI programs, such as the decision to take lethal (or potentially lethal) action. The U.S. military has had doctrine in place requiring a “human in the loop” on all potentially life-threatening decisions since 2012. The pace of AI development and the increasing likelihood of reaching “singularity on the battlefield”—a point when battle gets too fast-paced for the human mind to keep up and AI must make lethal decisions—puts pressure on this doctrine. This emphasizes the importance of maintaining security and control of these systems. If highly aware algorithms capable of exercising lethal force fell into malicious hands they could wreak havoc on civilians.

The current landscape of cybersecurity is offensively asymmetrical, where attacking is easier than defending, noted Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity Director Dr. Jason Matheny. System insecurity is a topic IARPA is anxious about, even more so than the popular idea of a sentient, self-serving AI.

“We’re much less worried about ‘Terminator’ and Skynet scenarios than we are about digital ‘Flubber’ scenarios—really badly engineered systems that are vulnerable to error or attack from outside,” Matheny said, citing easily spoofable image classifiers and data poisoning attacks.

These are uncharted waters for law enforcement and defense communities. If a program is built poorly and goes on a rogue cybercrime spree or is built for nefarious purposes (such as ransomware or worms), who is at fault? Is it the program itself? Is it the program’s creator?

“We’re going to go after the person who wrote it,” said Trent Teyema, FBI’s chief of cyber readiness and cyber chief operating officer. As systems become smarter and stronger, it will be harder to ascribe fault to human creators whose algorithms act in unintended ways. And as for the AI? “It’s not about how we arrest it, but how do we stop it,” Teyema said.

Photo Credit: Getty

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The Borders of Cyberspace Fri, 02 Mar 2018 17:03:01 +0000 Supreme Court case Microsoft v. U.S. holds major implications for rights to data stored internationally

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As the internet permeates more and more of everyday life and the cyber and physical worlds continue to intersect in new ways, legislators are faced with the difficult responsibility of defining law and policy within this complex domain.

In 2013, a wrinkle in cyber policy appeared that the Supreme Court is still ironing out today. A New York district county judge served Microsoft a search warrant requesting email records and information from a particular user account as part of a domestic drug-trafficking investigation. Microsoft responded by turning over the account information and other metadata stored on servers at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., but declined to cede the actual email content because it wasn’t hosted on United States soil. Instead, the data was stored at a facility in Dublin, Ireland, where the account was created. Microsoft claimed U.S. law enforcement had no jurisdiction over foreign data and would have to go through Irish authorities to obtain access. The U.S. hoped to bypass those cumbersome proceedings because Microsoft is an American company and could relocate the data in question to a server in the U.S. The resulting case, dubbed Microsoft v. U.S, was heard by the Supreme Court February 28. A ruling is expected by the end of the Court’s term in June.

The U.S. does maintain a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) with Ireland that provides an established process for legal requests such as this one that take place on foreign soil. Ireland has also expressed willingness to cooperate through that process. But after five years of appellate court hearings and reversals, it appears the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has its sights set beyond the initial few emails.

Rather, the government hopes to win the case and establish legal precedent that grants law enforcement the conditional right (like in the case of a criminal investigation) to seize data owned by American companies regardless of where the host server is located. This is especially desirable because companies often fracture their data and store it on multiple servers around the world. Instead of dealing with multiple foreign governments and their disparate data laws, the DOJ aims to expedite the process by going directly to the company in question. The U.S. believes a case victory would mean fast, easy access to evidence related to serious crimes and national security threats, WIRED reports.

On the other hand, Microsoft is concerned such policy could deter foreign customers who don’t want their data at the disposal of U.S. law enforcement, according to The Verge. Some argue that a ruling in favor of the U.S. might mean other countries like Russia or China could issue similar requests for communication data stored in the U.S—requests potentially lined with malicious intent.

As of yet, most people don’t consider digital data in terms of location or geopolitical boundaries. But with the advent of the cloud, the onus is on policymakers to more boldly define the borders of cyberspace. For example, do the established geographic and legal boundaries of the physical world extend to cyber? Does digital data have the same protections as paper data?

Microsoft v. U.S. will take a step toward answering these questions, but runs the risk of dividing the IT and cyber communities. A victory for Microsoft could enable the safeguarding of data stored overseas, especially that related to various types of trafficking or terrorism, but a victory for the U.S. could jeopardize rights to personal privacy.

The Verge suggests a compromise may be reached through an amendment to the 1986 Stored Communications Act on which the initial search warrant was founded. Revitalizing and revising old legislation to consider modern technology will likely be necessary for the world to fully embrace the cyber realm.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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The Pentagon Announces xView Detection Challenge Fri, 23 Feb 2018 16:37:57 +0000 DIUx challenge offers $100,000 in prizes for computer vision algorithms

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To leverage the commercial sector’s progress in artificial intelligence, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) announced a contest awarding a total of $100,000 to creators of effective computer vision tools. The xView Detection Challenge calls for skilled developers worldwide to submit object detection algorithms built for disaster response applications. DIUx will begin accepting entries next month.

The challenge is a collaboration with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in support of the Agency’s work providing relief in the wake of disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Reducing minimum image resolution and improving detection of fine-grained object classes are among the challenge’s core focuses.

Registered contestants will train their programs using xView, one of the Pentagon’s largest publicly available datasets of hand-annotated overhead imagery. The dataset covers more than 1,400 square kilometers in both visible and infrared light, and contains roughly one million examples of 60 diverse object classes. Features the algorithms will be required to learn—such as damaged buildings, vehicle lots, utility trucks, tanker trailers, and excavators—are marked by bounding boxes. The specified objects were chosen based on their relevance during humanitarian aid efforts, WIRED reports, and are specific enough to push the recognition capabilities of existing programs. While the training dataset will be released under a public, noncommercial license, the final testing dataset will not.

Winning algorithms—those with the highest accuracy and most complete coverage—will remain freely available for use by DIUx and NGA, who may continue development internally or re-train the software for other purposes such as warfighter support. Winning developers may be called on for follow-up work supporting other national security missions. DIUx has yet to reveal how the total cash prize will be divided among winners, but according to WIRED, a $5,000 special prize will go to the best open-source entry as a way to encourage strings-free sharing. Additional prizes will be awarded in the form of cloud compute credits.

After the challenge ends in May, DIUx will host a workshop featuring representatives from academia, industry, and government, who will discuss challenges and breakthroughs that arose while working with the xView dataset.

xView builds on the foundation laid by other challenges such as IARPA’s Functional Map of the World and DigitalGlobe’s SpaceNet series, which set out to accelerate machine learning capabilities using geo-tagged data. If computer vision programs could assume the task of scanning data and identifying damaged homes or highway impasses, first responders on the ground would receive near real-time situational awareness with greater speed and accuracy. Meanwhile, human analysts could redirect their energy and critical thinking skills toward more demanding tasks.

Photo Credit: DIUx

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The Significance of Falcon Heavy Fri, 09 Feb 2018 16:54:47 +0000 SpaceX demonstrates deep space capabilities with world’s most powerful rocket

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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday afternoon, careening into space with a cherry red convertible in tow. The historic field test now categorizes Falcon Heavy as the most powerful operational rocket in the world and demonstrates SpaceX’s new ability to send heavy payloads to deep space.

A concert of 27 Merlin engines provides the rocket’s first stage with five million pounds of thrust at liftoff (twice that of its closest competitor) and the ability to carry 140,000-pound payloads to lower Earth orbit. The rocket’s first payload, though, wasn’t a space-age machinery module or a cutting-edge satellite: it was Elon Musk’s personal Tesla roadster, an entertaining (and perhaps frivolous) way to demonstrate Falcon Heavy’s capabilities while extending humanity’s imprint on the universe.

After shedding its boosters, the rocket’s upper stage carried the Tesla on an impressive six-hour “coast” without firing the engines as an experimental capability demonstration for the U.S. Air Force. The maneuver was followed by a third and final burn, meant to send the car on its final orbit around Mars. While the burn was successful, it was more powerful than anticipated and instead pushed the upper stage closer to dwarf planet Ceres, near the asteroid belt. There, the Tesla will float through space until it’s destroyed by debris or radiation—or picked up by an extraterrestrial life form.

The reusability of Falcon Heavy’s parts also contribute to the launch’s significance. Three minutes after launch, the rocket’s two outer boosters, which were already recycled from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, detached mid-flight, falling back to Earth and simultaneously touching down on concrete landing zones.

The remaining center core booster was programmed to return to Earth for retrieval by an unmanned drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, only one of the core booster’s three engines fired for the landing burn. The rocket was unable to slow its descent and crashed in the water about 100 meters away, damaging the drone ship. Future missions will focus on retrieval of all three boosters. By recycling these components, SpaceX aims to accelerate rocket turnaround and vastly reduce launch costs. Falcon Heavy carries a price tag of $90 million, a bargain compared to the $422 million currently charged by United Launch Alliance.

Falcon Heavy’s first mission was one of the most anticipated rocket launches of the last decade, and one that suffered years of delays throughout its development. SpaceX first announced plans for the vehicle at a National Press Club conference in 2011, initially targeting a 2013 or 2014 launch. Engineering changes and failures with the partially reusable Falcon 9 boosters forced the company to postpone. Later, launch pad hardware changes caused further delays.

Now that Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage has confirmed its mission readiness, commercial customers can feel confident leasing spots on the vehicle for flights as early as this year. The Verge reports the rocket has already been called on to launch communication satellites in 2018 for companies such as Inmarsat, Viasat, and Arabsat. This summer, SpaceX will outfit Falcon Heavy with a test payload for the U.S. Air Force to authorize the vehicle for national security missions.

Photo Credit: SpaceX

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Fitness Tracking & Privacy Fri, 02 Feb 2018 16:29:29 +0000 Strava's global heat map inadvertently reveals locations of U.S. military bases

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When exercise tracking company Strava published a global heat map visualizing where people run and cycle throughout the world, the map inadvertently revealed sensitive U.S. military data not meant for public dissemination. Because a percentage of Strava’s users are military personnel exercising with Fitbits or other fitness trackers, the heat map also revealed the locations of active U.S. military bases in war zones.

In total, the heat map shows roughly one billion activities from Strava’s 27 million global users between 2015 and 2017. Areas such as London and Amsterdam (where the app is most used) glow yellow and white, while low-activity areas are shrouded in darkness. Combat areas and remote desert locations are predictably dark, except for illuminated paths inside the walls of known and classified military bases. Users on Twitter and Reddit have already identified military installations and routine patrol routes in Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and more.

The danger of this information’s availability online is heightened by Strava’s “segments” feature, which gives anyone with an internet connection the ability to de-anonymize data and personally identify individual soldiers. Segments are small geographic areas where users can compete with their neighbors for the best performance and compare their stats to a public leaderboard. According to Wired, anyone can create a segment via Strava, meaning anyone can see the names and times of individual Strava users in certain regions, such as those exercising at classified outposts. The Guardian, for example, was able to identify 50 service members stationed outside an airfield in Afghanistan. This could give nefarious actors the opportunity to glean patterns of life from individuals stationed at military bases—information that could be transformed into actionable intelligence against U.S. soldiers and operations.

Strava does offer users the ability to turn off data collection, but some users report being unaware of this option or confused by the steps required to deactivate location sharing. Strava CEO James Quarles addressed the controversy in an open letter: “We are committed to working with military and government officials to address potentially sensitive data. Our engineering and user-experience teams are simplifying our privacy and safety features to ensure you know how to control your own data.”

While this security oversight has garnered more press coverage than most, it is not an isolated incident. As location-based services continue to proliferate, companies will release that data for one purpose without considering security implications elsewhere, or the legal and regulatory changes that will follow. According to Kevin Pomfret, a former satellite imagery analyst and member of the Department of the Interior’s National Geospatial Advisory Committee, security lapses like this are a natural consequence of diverse businesses (like Uber and others) collecting and sharing global location data.

“I’m not sure [Strava] should be held at fault,” Pomfret said. “We’re just in this evolving nature of laws and policies that we’re trying to come to grips with. In the geospatial community, people understand these sensitivities, but all these other companies collecting and using [location] information don’t have insight into those issues.”

NPR reports the Pentagon is reviewing its GPS and wearable electronics policy to determine whether further training or guidance for service members is necessary and if smart device protocol at sensitive locations should be amended.

Photo Credit: Strava

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Draftsmen and Road Scouts Fri, 26 Jan 2018 15:34:21 +0000 The lost art of paper mapmaking

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Before Google Maps and other digital services took over the field of personal navigation, skilled cartographers drew and maintained paper roadmaps by hand.

National Geographic released this video from 1940 explaining how maps in pre-WWII-era America were created. The labor was split between two main roles. First, tireless road scouts would traverse the country in pairs, recording road changes in a to-scale graph book. While on the road, these data collectors checked their new findings against existing United States Geological Survey topographical sheets, recording mountains, canyons, rivers, and mileage between locations.

Upon their return, scouts turned the data over to draftsmen: the talented artists responsible for drawing lines and symbols that represented current road conditions. This was done on transparent sheets laid over an original master map (not unlike a layer or filter over a digital base map). Once the overlay sheet was complete, it would be removed and photographed onto a glass negative. That negative would be transferred to a zinc plate, which, after being washed, would be ready for the printing press.

Most modern mapping services have abandoned paper as a medium and transitioned entirely to web-based platforms. Though they’re largely considered passé, paper maps are still being created in small corners of the mapmaking community. Niche customer bases sometimes need traditional maps to find their way in the absence of a network connection, or need specialized maps with case-specific information such as hiking trail junctions.

The Atlantic published a Q&A with one such cartographer named Tom Harrison who’s been independently making and selling paper maps since the 1970s. Like road scouts in the ‘30s, Harrison used to begin his mapmaking process by hiking a park’s entire trail system, recording routes and boundaries by hand with a measuring wheel and a GPS. That’s become a rare practice. Harrison now uses an Adobe Illustrator software plugin to read and make use of GIS data from park and forest agencies, improving map accuracy and cutting down time spent on data collection. Cartography is still a delicate and painstaking art, though; Harrison often works on individual maps for years before deciding they’re ready for sale. His meticulous work preserves the history and the tradition of this ancient, specialized art.

Photo Credit: National Geographic

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The GeoCarb Mission Fri, 19 Jan 2018 19:33:58 +0000 NASA to map carbon gas output over the Americas

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A new NASA remote sensing mission aims to revolutionize our understanding of the carbon cycle by measuring and mapping carbon gas output over the Americas. 

The Geostationary Carbon Observatory—or GeoCarb—is targeted for launch in the early 2020s and will monitor vegetation health and stress as a result of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. To lower mission costs, GeoCarb will launch on a commercial SES-Government Solutions communications satellite. Devices in geostationary orbit mimic the Earth’s rotation, meaning the satellite can hover over and repeatedly monitor a specific region.

GeoCarb’s advanced payload will build on that of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission, including identical detector technology, algorithms, and calibration techniques along with oxygen spectral bands and a grating spectrometer. However, GeoCarb will add a fourth spectral band to measure carbon monoxide and, for the first time in U.S. satellite history, methane. GeoCarb will also record solar-induced fluorescence (SIF), which indicates that plants are pulling carbon from the air and photosynthesis is occurring.

According to NASA, this payload will result in roughly 10 million daily recordings of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and SIF at a spatial resolution of three to six miles. The collected data will illuminate how carbon flows between land, oceans, and the atmosphere as well as how carbon-based gasses are distributed by wind and weather patterns. Because of its geostationary placement, GeoCarb will fill information gaps left by polar orbiting satellites, resulting in a more complete picture of the carbon cycle.

In addition to informing climate science, this mission could also give a boost to the energy industry. Scientific American reports methane leaks cost the U.S. natural gas industry up to $10 billion each year. The article suggests GeoCarb’s collection of essential industry information (and its cost-efficient hosted payload method) is an effective way to please those in Congress who want to cut spending and maximize profits from the energy sector as well as those who want increased research toward improving environmental sustainability. If GeoCarb is successful, the hosted payload could serve as a model for future NASA partnerships with commercial satellite vendors and for international space programs to expand this research to other parts of the world.

Photo Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin/University of Oklahoma

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Operationalizing Project Maven Fri, 12 Jan 2018 15:24:20 +0000 AI algorithms make their combat debut

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The U.S. military has deployed an advanced artificial intelligence system to the battlefield for the first time.

In April 2017, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work established a new Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team for the Department of Defense. Dubbed “Project Maven” and led by Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director for defense intelligence, warfighter support with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, the initiative explores ways the military could use deep learning and neural networks to extract insights from intelligence data, support warfighters, and ultimately defeat ISIS. Within two months, the team received funding from Congress. In December, after six months of research and development, the group deployed to the Middle East its first mission-ready product: an object recognition algorithm for identifying features in video footage from ScanEagle reconnaissance drones.

Imagery labeling and sorting is a lucrative task for data analysts, but also a tedious one that can lead to burnout and fatigue-driven errors. By automating the object detection process, military operators can analyze larger quantities of data faster and maintain accuracy while redirecting human energy to more abstract areas. 

A week after combat trials began, the algorithm was able to identify people, vehicles, and different building types with an accuracy rate of about 80 percent, Defense One reported. The Maven team has paired its algorithm with a Navy and Marine Corps tool called Minotaur, which geo-registers an object’s coordinates and displays its exact location on a map.

As testing continues in the next few months, the algorithm will be refined and deployed to more U.S. Special Operations Command teams for use with larger tactical UAVs and eventually ISR satellites. The system will also be introduced to other data types (such as radar) for use across more operational contexts.

While the applied use cases are still narrow and require careful oversight, Project Maven’s early success is a sign that AI may soon play a key role in military combat. Military competitors such as China and Russia have taken interest in the technology as well, reinforcing the idea that the future landscape of war will rely heavily on human-machine teaming.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

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Forecasting Disease from Space Fri, 05 Jan 2018 15:43:16 +0000 Scientists use satellite data and predictive analytics to mitigate regional disease outbreaks

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In May 2017, hydrologist Antarpreet Jutla and a team of civil scientists used predictive algorithms to forecast an outbreak of cholera in Yemen. Cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease, primarily blooms during hot and dry seasons in coastal, developing countries lacking sophisticated sanitation and water infrastructure. To identify areas where these conditions are prevalent, Jutla’s team used satellite imagery to monitor temperature patterns, water storage, population migration, regional topography, and precipitation throughout Yemen. That data was fed into a processing algorithm that predicted areas most likely to experience an outbreak in the near future—particularly cities in West Yemen along the Red Sea.

Less than a month later, the model’s predictions rang true. Because the algorithms were built and tested using data from other regions, such as the Bengal Delta in South Asia, the team did not anticipate such accurate results in Yemen and chose not to preemptively warn local officials of the model’s predictions. In June, highly populated cities along the country’s West coast (including Al Hudaydah, Hajjah, and Taiz) saw tens of thousands of inhabitants suffer moderate to severe cholera symptoms.

The epidemic confirmed the model’s effectiveness beyond the team’s expectations. The refinement of such a system to a near-certain level of accuracy would offer huge advantages to hospitals and medical professionals, such as the ability to prepare treatment facilities and appropriately allocate supplies and vaccinations.

A similar disease forecasting effort in fall 2017 predicted malaria outbreaks in the Peruvian Amazon. NASA has partnered with university researchers who leverage NASA’s satellite fleet to identify areas where popular breeding grounds for the anopheles darlingi mosquito (the species most responsible for spreading malaria) overlap with concentrated human populations, leading to high infection rates. Using the Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS), NASA can pinpoint warm temperatures and calm waters like ponds or groundwater flooding—ideal conditions for darlingi to lay eggs. Regional models analyze this data and jump forward 12 weeks to predict where malaria is most likely to erupt. Health ministries are then encouraged to administer preventative treatment, bed nets, and other resources to specific health posts throughout Peru.

Disease forecasting remains an imperfect science, but as it is refined to a point of repeated, reliable accuracy, it will play a more significant role in containing and responding to dangerous disease outbreaks. 

Photo Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

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