Aside from political bumper stickers — or maybe a big, colorful peace sign on the bumper of a Volkswagen bus — you might not think your car says all that much about your political leanings. You’d be wrong. A new AI algorithm built by researchers at Stanford uses Google Street View to check out the cars on the road in any neighborhood and uses that data to determine whether the neighborhood is liberal or conservative.
The system makes its own observations within Google Street View and then combines that information with the latest demographic statistics and voting data. The AI then averages it all out to guess what the typical resident of any block might be like, including age, race, household income, and level of education. From that, the computer can use the latest presidential voting trends to surmise whether the individual would lean left or right.
“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,” Fei-Fei Li, associate professor of computer science at Stanford, explains. “More importantly, this research opens up more possibilities of virtually continuous study of our society using sometimes cheaply available visual data.”
The make and model of each car on the road is of great importance to the algorithm, which can identify every single vehicle from 1990 through today. The AI uses more than 50 million images gathered from Google Street View in hundreds of cities in the US to form its knowledge base, and it appears to be pretty accurate. It took a total of about two weeks for the AI to sift through all the images, which is actually pretty fast considering how much data there was to gather.
Some of the more general observations that the AI has made includes a comparison between the number of sedans and pickup trucks in any given area. If sedans beat out pickups, the area is overwhelmingly favored to be liberal, while a greater number of pickups than sedans makes a conservative-leaning district a sure bet.