New AI generates physical addresses for unmapped regions

MIT and Facebook have teamed up on a new potential way to give addresses to people who currently don't have one. Approximately four billion people around the globe lack a physical address, a problem that impacts everything from registering to vote to something as seemingly basic as receiving mail. Machine learning may be the solution to this problem, the two entities revealed in a recent study.

According to a study recently published on the matter, more than half of roads around the globe have inadequate street addressing systems in place, leaving many people — particularly those in the developing world — without a physical mailing address. This has become especially problematic in a world where the economy is increasingly global and physical goods are often made available to purchase online.

Some regions may have house addresses, but still use imprecise ones like "the blue house next to the red barn," which may work in very remote destinations where few structures are present, but are inadequate as population numbers grow.

Researchers with Facebook and MIT Media Lab have tapped machine learning as the solution to this problem, specifically a deep-learning algorithm that was trained to pull road pixels from satellite imagery.

The road pixels are connected into a network using a second algorithm; analysis is performed to form communities assembled around a city center, each labeled with north, east, west, and south quadrants and numbered/lettered streets based on both the distance from the city center and the road's position.

The team them compared their results to unmapped communities where the streets had been labelled manually. In contrast, the automated work was successful across more than 80-percent of the regions. Unlike some other automated processes, this newly developed option is said to provide intuitive results based on how destinations are related to other nearby places.

It's the first step in what may be a multi-faceted issue — adoption is as important as the system itself, and it's possible some places may be resistant to the new addresses. Literacy may be one hurdle to deploying standardized addresses, and it's also possible that other issues — like a local distrust of government interference — could also get in the way.