Concerns about data privacy are omnipresent, given the increasing usage of digital applications and their underlying business model that includes selling user data. Location data is particularly sensitive since they allow us to infer activity patterns and interests of users, e.g., by categorizing visited locations based on nearby points of interest (POI). On top of that, machine learning methods provide new powerful tools to interpret big data. In light of these considerations, we raise the following question: What is the actual risk that realistic, machine learning based privacy attacks can obtain meaningful semantic information from raw location data, subject to inaccuracies in the data? In response, we present a systematic analysis of two attack scenarios, namely location categorization and user profiling. Experiments on the Foursquare dataset and tracking data demonstrate the potential for abuse of high-quality spatial information, leading to a significant privacy loss even with location inaccuracy of up to 200m. With location obfuscation of more than 1 km, spatial information hardly adds any value, but a high privacy risk solely from temporal information remains. The availability of public context data such as POIs plays a key role in inference based on spatial information. Our findings point out the risks of ever-growing databases of tracking data and spatial context data, which policymakers should consider for privacy regulations, and which could guide individuals in their personal location protection measures.
In recent years we have seen substantial advances in foundation models for artificial intelligence, including language, vision, and multimodal models. Recent studies have highlighted the potential of using foundation models in geospatial artificial intelligence, known as GeoAI Foundation Models, for geographic question answering, remote sensing image understanding, map generation, and location-based services, among others. However, the development and application of GeoAI foundation models can pose serious privacy and security risks, which have not been fully discussed or addressed to date. This paper introduces the potential privacy and security risks throughout the lifecycle of GeoAI foundation models and proposes a comprehensive blueprint for research directions and preventative and control strategies. Through this vision paper, we hope to draw the attention of researchers and policymakers in geospatial domains to these privacy and security risks inherent in GeoAI foundation models and advocate for the development of privacy-preserving and secure GeoAI foundation models.
Generating learning-friendly representations for points in space is a fundamental and long-standing problem in ML. Recently, multi-scale encoding schemes (such as Space2Vec and NeRF) were proposed to directly encode any point in 2D/3D Euclidean space as a high-dimensional vector, and has been successfully applied to various geospatial prediction and generative tasks. However, all current 2D and 3D location encoders are designed to model point distances in Euclidean space. So when applied to large-scale real-world GPS coordinate datasets, which require distance metric learning on the spherical surface, both types of models can fail due to the map projection distortion problem (2D) and the spherical-to-Euclidean distance approximation error (3D). To solve these problems, we propose a multi-scale location encoder called Sphere2Vec which can preserve spherical distances when encoding point coordinates on a spherical surface. We developed a unified view of distance-reserving encoding on spheres based on the DFS. We also provide theoretical proof that the Sphere2Vec preserves the spherical surface distance between any two points, while existing encoding schemes do not. Experiments on 20 synthetic datasets show that Sphere2Vec can outperform all baseline models on all these datasets with up to 30.8% error rate reduction. We then apply Sphere2Vec to three geo-aware image classification tasks - fine-grained species recognition, Flickr image recognition, and remote sensing image classification. Results on 7 real-world datasets show the superiority of Sphere2Vec over multiple location encoders on all three tasks. Further analysis shows that Sphere2Vec outperforms other location encoder models, especially in the polar regions and data-sparse areas because of its nature for spherical surface distance preservation. Code and data are available at https://gengchenmai.github.io/sphere2vec-website/.
This chapter presents some of the fundamental assumptions and principles that could form the philosophical foundation of GeoAI and spatial data science. Instead of reviewing the well-established characteristics of spatial data (analysis), including interaction, neighborhoods, and autocorrelation, the chapter highlights themes such as sustainability, bias in training data, diversity in schema knowledge, and the (potential lack of) neutrality of GeoAI systems from a unifying ethical perspective. Reflecting on our profession's ethical implications will assist us in conducting potentially disruptive research more responsibly, identifying pitfalls in designing, training, and deploying GeoAI-based systems, and developing a shared understanding of the benefits but also potential dangers of artificial intelligence and machine learning research across academic fields, all while sharing our unique (geo)spatial perspective with others.
Neural network representation learning for spatial data is a common need for geographic artificial intelligence (GeoAI) problems. In recent years, many advancements have been made in representation learning for points, polylines, and networks, whereas little progress has been made for polygons, especially complex polygonal geometries. In this work, we focus on developing a general-purpose polygon encoding model, which can encode a polygonal geometry (with or without holes, single or multipolygons) into an embedding space. The result embeddings can be leveraged directly (or finetuned) for downstream tasks such as shape classification, spatial relation prediction, and so on. To achieve model generalizability guarantees, we identify a few desirable properties: loop origin invariance, trivial vertex invariance, part permutation invariance, and topology awareness. We explore two different designs for the encoder: one derives all representations in the spatial domain; the other leverages spectral domain representations. For the spatial domain approach, we propose ResNet1D, a 1D CNN-based polygon encoder, which uses circular padding to achieve loop origin invariance on simple polygons. For the spectral domain approach, we develop NUFTspec based on Non-Uniform Fourier Transformation (NUFT), which naturally satisfies all the desired properties. We conduct experiments on two tasks: 1) shape classification based on MNIST; 2) spatial relation prediction based on two new datasets - DBSR-46K and DBSR-cplx46K. Our results show that NUFTspec and ResNet1D outperform multiple existing baselines with significant margins. While ResNet1D suffers from model performance degradation after shape-invariance geometry modifications, NUFTspec is very robust to these modifications due to the nature of the NUFT.
Generating learning-friendly representations for points in a 2D space is a fundamental and long-standing problem in machine learning. Recently, multi-scale encoding schemes (such as Space2Vec) were proposed to directly encode any point in 2D space as a high-dimensional vector, and has been successfully applied to various (geo)spatial prediction tasks. However, a map projection distortion problem rises when applying location encoding models to large-scale real-world GPS coordinate datasets (e.g., species images taken all over the world) - all current location encoding models are designed for encoding points in a 2D (Euclidean) space but not on a spherical surface, e.g., earth surface. To solve this problem, we propose a multi-scale location encoding model called Sphere2V ec which directly encodes point coordinates on a spherical surface while avoiding the mapprojection distortion problem. We provide theoretical proof that the Sphere2Vec encoding preserves the spherical surface distance between any two points. We also developed a unified view of distance-reserving encoding on spheres based on the Double Fourier Sphere (DFS). We apply Sphere2V ec to the geo-aware image classification task. Our analysis shows that Sphere2V ec outperforms other 2D space location encoder models especially on the polar regions and data-sparse areas for image classification tasks because of its nature for spherical surface distance preservation.
A common need for artificial intelligence models in the broader geoscience is to represent and encode various types of spatial data, such as points (e.g., points of interest), polylines (e.g., trajectories), polygons (e.g., administrative regions), graphs (e.g., transportation networks), or rasters (e.g., remote sensing images), in a hidden embedding space so that they can be readily incorporated into deep learning models. One fundamental step is to encode a single point location into an embedding space, such that this embedding is learning-friendly for downstream machine learning models such as support vector machines and neural networks. We call this process location encoding. However, there lacks a systematic review on the concept of location encoding, its potential applications, and key challenges that need to be addressed. This paper aims to fill this gap. We first provide a formal definition of location encoding, and discuss the necessity of location encoding for GeoAI research from a machine learning perspective. Next, we provide a comprehensive survey and discussion about the current landscape of location encoding research. We classify location encoding models into different categories based on their inputs and encoding methods, and compare them based on whether they are parametric, multi-scale, distance preserving, and direction aware. We demonstrate that existing location encoding models can be unified under a shared formulation framework. We also discuss the application of location encoding for different types of spatial data. Finally, we point out several challenges in location encoding research that need to be solved in the future.
As an important part of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Question Answering (QA) aims at generating answers to questions phrased in natural language. While there has been substantial progress in open-domain question answering, QA systems are still struggling to answer questions which involve geographic entities or concepts and that require spatial operations. In this paper, we discuss the problem of geographic question answering (GeoQA). We first investigate the reasons why geographic questions are difficult to answer by analyzing challenges of geographic questions. We discuss the uniqueness of geographic questions compared to general QA. Then we review existing work on GeoQA and classify them by the types of questions they can address. Based on this survey, we provide a generic classification framework for geographic questions. Finally, we conclude our work by pointing out unique future research directions for GeoQA.
Learning knowledge graph (KG) embeddings is an emerging technique for a variety of downstream tasks such as summarization, link prediction, information retrieval, and question answering. However, most existing KG embedding models neglect space and, therefore, do not perform well when applied to (geo)spatial data and tasks. For those models that consider space, most of them primarily rely on some notions of distance. These models suffer from higher computational complexity during training while still losing information beyond the relative distance between entities. In this work, we propose a location-aware KG embedding model called SE-KGE. It directly encodes spatial information such as point coordinates or bounding boxes of geographic entities into the KG embedding space. The resulting model is capable of handling different types of spatial reasoning. We also construct a geographic knowledge graph as well as a set of geographic query-answer pairs called DBGeo to evaluate the performance of SE-KGE in comparison to multiple baselines. Evaluation results show that SE-KGE outperforms these baselines on the DBGeo dataset for geographic logic query answering task. This demonstrates the effectiveness of our spatially-explicit model and the importance of considering the scale of different geographic entities. Finally, we introduce a novel downstream task called spatial semantic lifting which links an arbitrary location in the study area to entities in the KG via some relations. Evaluation on DBGeo shows that our model outperforms the baseline by a substantial margin.