Google lifts lid on flood forecasting system
Wed 26 Sep 2018
For most of us, when a Google service flashes in our notifications it’s usually an email ping or traffic alert.
Now, thanks to recent breakthroughs in AI and gains in computational power, Google is on the cusp of notifying users worldwide about impending floods.
Flood forecasting systems are not universally available, and often the most susceptible areas lack even the most basic of systems. Those that do exist are often inaccurate.
Around 250 million people are affected by devastating floods every year. By notifying citizens through Google Alerts, the system will not only save untold lives but potentially billions in damages.
In a blog post published on Monday, Yossi Matias, VP of Engineering for Google, lifted the lid on the company’s advances in flood forecasting.
Amongst the information fed into its forecasting model is historical event data, river level readings, and terrain and elevation measurements.
Google then generates hundreds of thousands of simulations for each location, allowing it to not only spot early warning signs, but predict a flood’s severity.
Beginning with a trial in India, where 20 per cent of global flood fatalities occur, users’ phones will deliver notifications that prepare and inform them of impending floods.
The blog was posted on the day after Google announced a collaboration with the UN, World Bank, and ICRC to develop a new famine prevention initiative.
Google’s wealth of AI capabilities make it well placed to deliver real social impacts, but access to data is essential to refine and evolve the necessary algorithms.
In June, the platform announced a partnership with India’s Central Water Commission to ensure their systems had access to all the necessary data.
Google say the system delivered its first alert earlier this month, following heavy rains in the Patna region.
After the trials in India, Google will seek to implement coverage worldwide.