Artificial Intelligence for Earth Observation: Reasoning, Uncertainties, Ethics and Beyond

Acronym: AI4EO


Current AI4EO mostly focuses on perception and the direct recognition of materials, objects, and phenomena, or on measuring geo-physical parameters. Reasoning goes beyond recognition towards induction, deduction, spatial and temporal reasoning, and structural inference, which will lead to the evolution of a new generation of AI4EO.


EO applications target at retrieving physical or bio-chemical variables in a large scale. These predicted physical quantities are often used in data assimilation and in decision making, for example the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, besides high accuracy, traceability and reproducibility of results, quantifying the uncertainty of these predictions from an AI algorithm is indispensable towards a quality and reliable AI4EO.


EO research makes use of various types of data, such as satellite images and social media data. However, improved image resolution raises questions under the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that came into force in 2018. The collection, storing, processing and transfer of such data therefore needs to be done with much greater attention to legal and ethical requirements by (for example) adopting supporting technologies that give data contributors greater control over their (personal) data on one hand, and support the development of the European Data economy on the other. Technologies such as blockchain are, therefore, also likely to be researched and deployed, including from an ethical perspective, for fundamental AI4EO research. Other ethical issues, including but not restricted to algorithmic bias, resulting in discrimination, also need to be checked and addressed at early stages of technological development. Building responsible AI4EO that embody social norms and values while ensuring sustainable and inclusive development is of central relevance. Accordingly, we will address issues of data protection/privacy, data portability, and fairness/equality at the level not just of data collection, but also at the level of data use and dissemination within the sphere of ethics in AI4EO.

Artificial Intelligence for Earth Observation