An AI Model Tested In The Ukraine War Is Helping Assess Damage From The Hawaii Wildfires

Article by Irene Benedicto: “On August 7, 2023, the day before the Maui wildfires started in Hawaii, a constellation of earth-observing satellites took multiple pictures of the island at noon, local time. Everything was quiet, still. The next day, at the same, the same satellites captured images of fires consuming the island. Planet, a San Francisco-based company that owns the largest fleet of satellites taking pictures of the Earth daily, provided this raw imagery to Microsoft engineers, who used it to train an AI model designed to analyze the impact of disasters. Comparing before and after the fire photographs, the AI model created maps that highlighted the most devastated areas of the island.

With this information, the Red Cross rearranged its work on the field that same day to respond to the most urgent priorities first, helping evacuate thousands of people who’ve been affected by one of the deadliest fires in over a century. The Hawaii wildfires have already killed over a hundred people, a hundred more remain missing and at least 11,000 people have been displaced. The relief efforts are ongoing 10 days after the start of the fire, which burned over 3,200 acres. Hawaii Governor Josh Green estimated the recovery efforts could cost $6 billion.

Planet and Microsoft AI were able to pull and analyze the satellite imagery so quickly because they’d struggled to do so the last time they deployed their system: during the Ukraine war. The successful response in Maui is the result of a year and a half of building a new AI tool that corrected fundamental flaws in the previous system, which didn’t accurately recognize collapsed buildings in a background of concrete.

“When Ukraine happened, all the AI models failed miserably,” Juan Lavista, chief scientist at Microsoft AI, told Forbes.

The problem was that the company’s previous AI models were mainly trained with natural disasters in the U.S. and Africa. But devastation doesn’t look the same when it is caused by war and in an Eastern European city. “We learned that having one single model that would adapt to every single place on earth was likely impossible,” Lavista said…(More)”.