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SpaceNet: CIA wants to use AI to “spy” on Earth

CosmiQ Works, a firm closely linked to the CIA, has joined forces with Amazon, DigitalGlobe and NVIDIA to use artificial intelligence get a better view of what is happening on Earth.

The partners intend to take satellite imagery one step further by designing algorithms which can determine what is happening in the images and highlight any buildings, objects or natural features.

According to DigitalGlobe, SpaceNet will be an online repository of satellite imagery and labelled training data that will advance the development of machine learning and deep learning algorithms that leverage remote sensing data.

“Each minute something is happening in the world. While commercial constellations are poised to collect imagery at a global scale, we must advance our ability to analyse data to realise its full potential,” said Tony Frazier, DigitalGlobe’s senior vice president.

“SpaceNet is key to unlocking a huge explosion of new (artificial intelligence)-driven applications that ultimately will help us better respond to natural disasters, counter global security threats, improve population health outcomes and much more.”

Despite this statement, speculation as to why the creation of SpaceNet has come about range from Amazon’s desire to improve its delivery routes to the CIA’s desire to spy on Earth.

Mapping Rio de Janeiro was DigitalGlobe's first task. Image: DigitalGlobe
Mapping Rio de Janeiro was DigitalGlobe’s first task. Image: DigitalGlobe

DigitalGlobe has already released satellite imagery depicting the whole of Rio de Janeiro to a resolution of 50 centimetres, with the outlines of 200,000 buildings manually marked on the images. This is the partners’ first step towards mapping the entire globe; they hope to collect 60 million satellite images to be stored in SpaceNet, which will be accessible to the public.

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