The email into my inbox sounded enticing, a press release saying science revealed Ireland’s best locations. As you could imagine, the revelation is far greater than a list of nice towns.

The report from SAS used machine learning to analyse five million data points for 148,000 cities worldwide to determine the best place to live.

In Paradise Found, SAS is showing off their artificial intelligence capability, making this more than your run-of-the-mill listicle. The analysis focuses on several key aspects we often consider for quality of life: expense, outdoor space, culture, and more.

The data gets down to the nitty gritty: the price of bananas, time wasted in traffic, the number of trees, and even the width of footpaths.

“If you think about a typical city ranking, that’s done by an editor. An editor has to think about the criteria which they rank that city,” says John Spooner, Chief Data Scientist for SAS UK and Ireland. “We turned that on its head.”

Spooner says SAS collected freely available data from government population surveys,  websites like Trip Advisor and even social media posts to create a massive pool of information.

The SAS machine learning algorithms gained knowledge and refined its criterium to eventually decide what data was most important.

“No aspect can be ignored simply because no one was looking for it,” says Spooner.

In the end, the Paradise Found project decided West Perth, Australia, is the best location on Earth.

Why West Perth? SAS says the area boasts impressive amounts of green space and beaches, culture and nightlife, job opportunities, and easy commuting thanks to heavy investments in public transit.

Ireland’s paradise

The SAS report included several other top global cities, but the team also found several spots in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland among the most desirable.

The County Dublin neighbourhoods and suburbs of Artane, Sallynoggin, Drumcondra, Blackrock, Donnycarney, Rathgar and Irishtown were ranked as some of the best places in Ireland. Also on that computer-generated list, Killarney in County Kerry and Bundoran in Donegal.

Here’s the global Top 5:

  1. West Perth, Australia
  2. Feijenoord, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  3. New York, NY, United States
  4. Sandy Bay, Australia
  5. Hebden Bridge, United Kingdom

Bigger implications

What really makes this report stand out from the hundreds of other “best places in blah blah blah” reports is who created it: a computer, not a human. Machine learning has massive implications of all of our lives.

There are many times when we can use machine learning to improve our capabilities. This appears to be one. It would take a human hundreds of hours to analyse all that data to definitely prove West Perth is the best. Any such list would, in a large part or a small part, still reflect the opinion of the humans creating it.

In this case, we can see data and computers can help us make wiser choices. West Perth seems lovely. However, what really makes reports like this matter are the human touches. The SAS software never visited Australia. Humans did.

Software can help point the right way. It’s up to us to use that information the best way possible.

What do you think of the software’s rankings?  Are there other considerations you think it should consider?

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