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Chinese AI Predicts Earthquakes

Credit: USGS/Ben Brooks

Calculations are easy when your brain is a computer.

Accurately predicting an earthquake is difficult, bordering on impossible. You can’t really know one’s happening until it’s already happening. You can measure the magnitude at that point, but that doesn’t really help people evacuate. The likelihood of an earthquake can be estimated, but only within a very broad swath of time. If an earthquake could be accurately predicted beforehand, people could be evacuated and stuff can be bolted down. We can’t do that just yet, but a newly developed AI might get us closer.

Researchers from China’s University of Science and Technology, as well as the China Earthquake Administration, have developed an artificial intelligence system designed to predict earthquakes before things start shaking. This would be especially useful for China, since it’s one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.

Credit: David and Jessie Cowhig

In a typical pre-earthquake situation, seismologists have to estimate the earthquake’s epicenter and analyze the vibrations in the Earth’s crust to determine its magnitude. Human-powered calculations in this field aren’t the most accurate, unfortunately. This new AI-powered system could automate the calculating process, narrowing down the epicenter and magnitude in a fraction of the time. In fact, it’s already beaten out manual calculation methods in 446 earthquake assessment tests.

The system is currently in testing phases in the mountainous regions of Yunnan and Sichuan, located in southwestern China. A lot of the country’s earthquakes are focused around there, with one of the most powerful, a magnitude 8, occurring in 2008 and killing nearly 90,000. If they can get this thing working, we can learn the scope of a quake before it gets out of hand, which can expedite evacuation, as well as safe power shutdowns and search-and-rescue operations.