France suffered its worst drought on record last month, and authorities have been cracking down on water conservation ever since.
Now, new artificial intelligence (AI) technology could be added to their arsenal, after successfully uncovering 20,356 illegally built private swimming pools.
The country’s tax authority announced yesterday that the scheme enabled it to collect around €10m (£8.5m) from landlords who had failed to report installations.
Developed by Google and Capgemini, the AI software was trained to spot basins on aerial images of nine French departments.
The results of a trial run last October were then cross-checked with the cadastral databases, before the General Directorate of Public Finances (DGFiP) intervened.
The news was first reported by French media outlet Le Parisiene, who spoke with DGFiP Deputy Director General Antoine Magnant about how the technology could be used in the future.
He said: “We are particularly targeting house extensions like conservatories.
“But we need to be sure that the software can find buildings with a large footprint and not the kennel or the children’s playhouse.”
Developed by Google and Capgemini, the AI software was trained to spot swimming pools in aerial images of nine French departments (stock image)
In 2020, there were around 3.2 million private swimming pools in France, which means there are more per capita than any country in the world except the United States. On the photo: Construction of swimming pools in Leforest
AI TOOLS CAN SPOT FOREST FIRES USING SATELLITE DATA
Companies are developing artificial intelligence tools that can detect fires in their very early stages using satellite imagery.
US-based Descartes Laboratories and Germany’s OroraTech look for telltale signs of a fire, such as smoke or changes in thermal infrared data, on satellite images of problem areas every few minutes.
Algorithms trained to look for different properties of a wildfire are then run and, if one is detected, its coordinates are sent to firefighters.
They can also predict how a fire may grow and move once it starts, helping authorities plan evacuations and judge how best to fight a growing fire.
The models use real-time data from satellites like weather, topography and drought as well as cameras, ground sensors and aircraft equipped with infrared radars.
Sales of private swimming pools were already booming in France before the pandemic, but the increase in the number of employees working from home has only further increased demand.
In 2020, there were approximately 3.2 million private pools in the country, which means it has more per capita than any country in the world except the United States.
Since swimming pools increase property values, they often incur higher property and residence taxes and must be reported within 90 days of completion.
This is usually the case, unless they are mobile, less than 10 square meters in size, or the owner fails to notify the tax authorities.
According to Le Parisien, an average 320 square foot (30 square meter) swimming pool would be taxed at 200 euros (£170) a year.
The AI tool has been tested in the regions of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Ardèche, Rhône, Haute-Savoie, Vendée, Maine-et- Loire and Morbihan.
Tax evaders would initially receive a written warning, giving them the opportunity to disclose their assets, before receiving an inspection or a fine.
Under French law, an illegally built swimming pool can face fines of €6,000 (£5,140) per square metre.
In April, the CGT union, which represents workers in the state’s financial sector, claimed the software had a margin of error of up to 30%.
It has been claimed that he confused tarps, solar panels and industrial tanks with swimming pools and measured their sizes incorrectly.
However, the DGFiP indicated that this was not indicative of the final performance of the tool, and that taxpayers will always have the possibility of contesting the disputes they would present.
As swimming pools increase property values, they often incur higher property and residence taxes and must be declared within 90 days of completion in France (stock image)
The DGFiP has announced that the scheme will now be rolled out nationwide, potentially resulting in €40m (£34m) in new levies in 2023.
It comes after France received just 0.38 inches (9.7 mm) of rain in July, according to weather service Météo-France, making it the driest month since March 1961.
Watering bans have been implemented in the worst affected regions, after more than 100 towns had no running drinking water and had to be supplied by special deliveries.
A French Greens MP has floated the idea of a complete ban on private swimming pools in the country as a drought prevention measure.
The artificial intelligence tool could also potentially be used to find undeclared house extensions, patios or gazebos, which are also used to account for property taxes, the authority said.
AI predicts crime a week in advance with 90% accuracy – but can also perpetuate racial bias
An algorithm has been found to predict future crimes a week in advance with 90% accuracy.
The artificial intelligence (AI) tool predicts crime by learning temporal and geographic patterns of violent and property crime.
Data scientists from the University of Chicago trained the computer model using public data from eight major US cities.
However, it has proven controversial, as the model fails to account for systemic biases in law enforcement and its complex relationship with crime and society.
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