Surveillance State: Stanford Researchers Use AI To Determine Neighborhood's Bias By Its Cars

A team of researchers at Stanford University have trained artificial intelligence algorithms to observe and study millions of images on Google Street View to determine how people vote by the make of their car. The algorithms were trained to recognize the make, model, and year of every car produced since 1990, in more than 50 million Google Street View images across 200 American cities.

The data on car types and location were then compared against the most comprehensive demographic database in use today, the American Community Survey, and against presidential election voting data to estimate demographic factors such as race, education, income and voter preferences, the Stanford News reported.

Fei-Fei Li, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, led the team of researchers who published the study on Tuesday in the official journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and found a “simple linear relationship” between cars, demographics and political persuasion.

Li is an expert in computer vision and deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence in which she teaches algorithms to “recognize three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional images”. The algorithms were trained, but more importantly, they became self-aware combing through millions of images on Google Street View in identifying the political preference of a citizen through the car they owned.

“Using easily obtainable visual data, we can learn so much about our communities, on par with some information that takes billions of dollars to obtain via census surveys. More importantly, this research opens up more possibilities of virtually continuous study of our society using sometimes cheaply available visual data,” Li said.

According to the study: "If the number of sedans in a neighborhood is greater than the number of pickups, there is an 88 percent chance that the precinct will vote Democratic. Transpose those numbers to have more pickups than sedans and there is an 82 percent chance a precinct will vote Republican.  

The algorithms worked day and night for two weeks and were able to probe through 50 million images creating 2,657 categories by make, model, and year. Standford News said that “a human working at a relatively high rate of six images a minute would need 15 years to complete the same task”.

Researchers believe their algorithm could be an inexpensive real time solution to the more costly demographic surveys. For example, the American Community Survey costs the U.S. more than $250 million per year a lag time between data collection and publication that could span 2-years. Li’s algorithm is a hopeful to replace the current surveys.

Not so fast, however said Timnit Gebru, first author of the paper and formerly a member of Li’s lab, who does not “see something like this replacing the American Community Survey, but as a supplement to keep the data up to date.” Gebru has high hopes for the technology of extracting critical information in the world around us on inexpensive platforms such as Google Street View.

“If you walk around a neighborhood looking at cars, the density of traffic sometimes tells you things as valuable as the types of cars you see on the streets. We can use all this information in our algorithms,” Gebru said. Li agreed, counterting that “It can help us understand how our society works, the things people need and how we can improve lives,” Li said. “There is great potential to use computer vision technology in a constructive and benevolent way.”

And while AI algos at an elite academic institution are mapping out the political preferences of each American by location, with what one hopes are ultimately benign intentions, one wonders what would happen if the data fell into the wrong hands, or if - gasp - the "election manipulating" Russians were to do a similar analysis using entirely publicly available data? Would America's next president be an organgutan?


tbd108 Huckleberry Pie Fri, 12/01/2017 - 01:54 Permalink

Lucky they didn't use Snohomish County, WA to test in. This is the home of Boeing and the very Democratic labor union types. All (most anyway) drive pickups. Come up here and see boys and girls! I hope they didn't spend too much taxpayer money on this nonsense but I suppose they did. And while they are up here come see the bikini baristas which is where you see the pickups lined up.

In reply to by Huckleberry Pie

any_mouse Fri, 12/01/2017 - 01:34 Permalink

How is this Artificial Intelligence?

An image recognition system. A map of political boundaries. Ratio of pickups to cars in each precinct.

A SQL connection to voting databases. Ratio of Democrats to Republicans in each precinct.

Wooo, AI, so cool!!!

Give me a billion dollars!!!

Or did an AI think up the project and send out drones to do the leg work without human input or direction?

If the AI was smart it would not be bothering with counting party voters.

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world."

Tao 4 the Show any_mouse Fri, 12/01/2017 - 05:03 Permalink

Correct. Algorithms, neural nets, mathematics in general, and even computers for that matter have little to do with "intelligence". If humans do figure out what is required for AI, it will be a disaster as the materialistic perspective leads only to a sociopathic intelligence. Amazing people can't see where all this is headed.

In reply to by any_mouse

D503 Fri, 12/01/2017 - 03:51 Permalink

The only thing one ought to conclude from this data is that people who tend to vote Republican do real work and need to use trucks to transport tools and goods. Fucking arts and crafts bitch labor like psychology and "teaching" are fucking glorified hobbies.

PT oncemore Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:11 Permalink

1.  So stupid people will think it is smart.2.  Because "AI" is sort-of trendy, but never really quite peaks so it will probably still be trendy in 30 years time.3.  So no-one will bother to question how it really works - "It's AI!  We don't know either, heh heh heh ..."

In reply to by oncemore

Gunga Fri, 12/01/2017 - 06:51 Permalink

Maybe Stanford can use some of that big brain they have to reduce the homeless and addicted populations of California. All this problem solving ability walking by homeless people, discarded syringes, human feces and a statewide hepatitis outbreak. 

PT Gunga Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:14 Permalink

No, but they will be able to work out which ones are Ds and which ones are Rs by the tears in their clothes, the type of syringes they use and the brands of their booze ... and the person on the corner handing out dollar notes to every one that votes D.

In reply to by Gunga

jmack Fri, 12/01/2017 - 08:15 Permalink

     It is very important for an AI to recognize how someone might vote, otherwise they cannot use AI to suppress anti-democrat news and commentary.

Rentier88 Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:02 Permalink

Worthless study that proves zero...other than fact that beta males drive Priuses and dork mobiles while alpha males drive trucks and cars with balls under the hood.  Doesn't even account for those that are not on the stupid red or blue teams but are Independents or Libertarians.

honestann Sun, 12/03/2017 - 15:35 Permalink

#####  FRAUD ALERT  #####Based upon the current common everyday meaning of AI == "artificial intelligence" in mainstream media (and almost all alternative media too), every single computer program ever written is AI.What a farce.