Using Satellite Imagery, This AI Traces Urban Wealth
An online interactive called “Penny” proves it, and opens questions around the role that machines might play in the urban future.
A joint collaboration between Stamen Design, DigitalGlobe, and Carnegie Mellon University, Penny is artificial intelligence that can “read” satellite imagery of two very different cities and judge the income brackets of neighborhoods within them. Curious users can test her power by moving a viewfinder over stitched aerial photographs of New York City and St. Louis; once run, Penny will judge the level of median income with various degrees of confidence.
The Upper East Side of Manhattan? High median income. The St. Louis Arch? Medium-high.
More intriguing is that Penny allows a bit of Sim City-esque play. What would happen to the neighborhood’s predicted median income level if, say, a tennis court or a greenhouse appeared where that park is? What if a school bus parking lot replaced those homes, or a famous luxury hotel? Run Penny again, and she’ll offer a new prediction.