A Machine Learning Approach to Modeling Human Migration

15 Nov 2017  ·  Caleb Robinson, Bistra Dilkina ·

Human migration is a type of human mobility, where a trip involves a person moving with the intention of changing their home location. Predicting human migration as accurately as possible is important in city planning applications, international trade, spread of infectious diseases, conservation planning, and public policy development. Traditional human mobility models, such as gravity models or the more recent radiation model, predict human mobility flows based on population and distance features only. These models have been validated on commuting flows, a different type of human mobility, and are mainly used in modeling scenarios where large amounts of prior ground truth mobility data are not available. One downside of these models is that they have a fixed form and are therefore not able to capture more complicated migration dynamics. We propose machine learning models that are able to incorporate any number of exogenous features, to predict origin/destination human migration flows. Our machine learning models outperform traditional human mobility models on a variety of evaluation metrics, both in the task of predicting migrations between US counties as well as international migrations. In general, predictive machine learning models of human migration will provide a flexible base with which to model human migration under different what-if conditions, such as potential sea level rise or population growth scenarios.

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