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The Rise of Artificial Intelligence for Earth Observation (AI4EO)

Dr. Pierre-Philippe Mathieu

The world of Earth Observation (EO) is rapidly changing as a result of exponential advances in sensor and digital technologies. The speed of change has no historical precedent. Recent decades have witnessed extraordinary developments in ICT, including the Internet, cloud computing and storage, which have all led to radically new ways to collect, distribute and analyse data about our planet. This digital revolution is also accompanied by a sensing revolution that provides an unprecedented amount of data on the state of our planet and its changes.

Europe leads this sensing revolution in space through the Copernicus initiative and the corresponding development of a family of Sentinel missions. This has enabled the global monitoring of our planet across the whole electromagnetic spectrum on an operational and sustained basis. In addition, a new trend, referred to as “New Space”, is now rapidly emerging through the increasing commoditization and commercialization of space.

These new global data sets from space lead to a far more comprehensive picture of our planet. This picture is now even more refined via data from billions of smart and inter-connected sensors referred to as the Internet of Things. Such streams of dynamic data on our planet offer new possibilities for scientists to advance our understanding of how the ocean, atmosphere, land and cryosphere operate and interact as part on an integrated Earth System. It also represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs to turn big data into new types of information services.

However, the emergence of big data creates new opportunities but also new challenges for scientists, business, data and software providers to make sense of the vast and diverse amount of data by capitalizing on powerful techniques such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Until recently AI was mainly a restricted field occupied by experts and scientists, but today it is routinely used in everyday life without us even noticing it, in applications ranging from recommendation engines, language services, face recognition and autonomous vehicles.

The application of AI to EO data is just at its infancy, remaining mainly concentrated on computer vision applications with Very High-Resolution satellite imagery, while there are certainly many areas of Earth Science and big data mining / fusion, which could increasingly benefit from AI, leading to entire new types of value chain, scientific knowledge and innovative EO services.

This talk will present some of the ESA research / application activities and partnerships in the AI4EO field, inviting you to stimulate new ideas and collaboration to make the most of the big data and AI revolutions.