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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Dec 12;114(50):13108-13113. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1700035114. Epub 2017 Nov 28.

Using deep learning and Google Street View to estimate the demographic makeup of neighborhoods across the United States.

Author information

Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Computer Science Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Computer Science Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
Vision and Learning Laboratory, Computer Science and Engineering Department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
The Center for Genome Architecture, Department of Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030.
Department of Computer Science, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.
The Center for Genome Architecture, Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.


The United States spends more than $250 million each year on the American Community Survey (ACS), a labor-intensive door-to-door study that measures statistics relating to race, gender, education, occupation, unemployment, and other demographic factors. Although a comprehensive source of data, the lag between demographic changes and their appearance in the ACS can exceed several years. As digital imagery becomes ubiquitous and machine vision techniques improve, automated data analysis may become an increasingly practical supplement to the ACS. Here, we present a method that estimates socioeconomic characteristics of regions spanning 200 US cities by using 50 million images of street scenes gathered with Google Street View cars. Using deep learning-based computer vision techniques, we determined the make, model, and year of all motor vehicles encountered in particular neighborhoods. Data from this census of motor vehicles, which enumerated 22 million automobiles in total (8% of all automobiles in the United States), were used to accurately estimate income, race, education, and voting patterns at the zip code and precinct level. (The average US precinct contains ∼1,000 people.) The resulting associations are surprisingly simple and powerful. For instance, if the number of sedans encountered during a drive through a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, the city is likely to vote for a Democrat during the next presidential election (88% chance); otherwise, it is likely to vote Republican (82%). Our results suggest that automated systems for monitoring demographics may effectively complement labor-intensive approaches, with the potential to measure demographics with fine spatial resolution, in close to real time.


computer vision; deep learning; demography; social analysis

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