Canadian students help NASA search for landslides

A group of Canadian students are using a popular social networking site to help gather information for a major space agency.

University of British Columbia graduate student Badr Jaidi and his team, the Social Landslides team, trained computers to “read” Reddit to help with NASA’s database.

Computers improve predictions of when and where landslides will happen by processing natural disaster news stories and putting the information into a public database, the Open Collaborative Online Repository ( COOLR).

Jaidi and team are completing a master’s degree in data science at UBC.

“Once we know the places that are most prone to landslides, there are a number of precautions that can be taken to avoid that damage,” Jaidi said in an interview with CTV News Vancouver. “So the better we understand landslides, the more those measures can be taken.”

Before the invention, people had to manually submit information about landslides by searching through articles. The tool now automates the process, completing searches and submissions in minutes.

This tool scans Reddit for articles from a certain time period and extracts relevant information. To remove unhelpful information, the computer can tell if the word “slide” is being used in a different context, such as when someone wins “by a landslide”.

The team trained the computer to do natural language processing of the landslide data so it could gather relevant information.

Jaidi explained in a post: “We will give it an article and ask where a landslide might have occurred. “The model will predict the answer based on the relevant language, for example, ‘The landslide most likely happened here, according to this sentence,’ and we will tell it whether it is correct or not. “

Computers learn essential information, such as when a landslide occurred, where, what caused it, and the number of deaths involved.

According to the team, the system can return a month’s worth of articles in about 15 minutes and can be included in COOLR.

The World Health Organization says landslides are more widespread than any other geological event. Land with sloping terrain that has previously suffered from forest fires and stream channels are most susceptible to landslides.

The team used Reddit because the site is free to access and has fewer restrictions. The students believe that the technology can be extended to larger platforms and used for other natural disasters.

The students took two months to complete the project.


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