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A look at a Facebook hackathon in Seattle in June 2016. (Facebook Photo)

The city of Seattle is top notch when it comes to releasing data about everything from traffic to education to finance, and Facebook wants to take advantage of that.

Tomorrow, Facebook’s Seattle engineering hub will host a hackathon focused on applying machine learning to Seattle’s wealth of public data. Here is an example of the kinds of things we might see come out of the event according to Aria Haghighi, a Facebook engineering manager who is leading the event:

“We have bicycle accident data — where bicycle accidents are happening — and we also have map data on what the terrain looks like there,” Haghighi said. “So, one thing you could do is build a model to predict, based on the map, where are you likely to see accidents and see how that does with some of the data we have.”

Aria Haghighi. (Facebook Photo)

Representatives from the city of Seattle will be on hand at the event, which begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Facebook’s Seattle office, 1101 Dexter Ave. N. David Doyle, program manager for Seattle’s open data initiative, said the city hasn’t yet delved deeply into what machine learning can do for its municipal data sets. Depending on what the winning ideas are, Doyle said the city has interest in collaboration opportunities to make them reality.

“One thing we are especially interested in better understanding is what information our residents actually want to know versus what they are finding when they come to City sites like the open data portal, so that we can do a better job on the demand-side of the public information equation,” Doyle told GeekWire in an email. “So ML can potentially prove useful here in helping us get better at understanding that, and by extension help us with deliver more targeted open datasets that can then power some AI scenarios like natural language interactions, such as Alexa Skills.”

Civicly-minded hackathons are far from a new concept in Seattle, but Haghighi said this is the first one he can recall Facebook putting on here. Haghighi said almost every facet of Facebook has some representation here in Seattle, and that includes divisions focused on machine learning. The idea for this hackathon has generated plenty of interest internally, Haghighi said, so much so that it is sold out.

This isn’t Facebook’s first partnership with Seattle, as it participates in the city’s Digital Equity Initiative, as well as other programs. Haghighi said Facebook wants to be a “good citizen” in the cities it works out of, and hackathons like tomorrow’s represent another step in that goal.

“To point a bunch of machine learning people to think about some interesting problems in the city they live in, possibly creating some interesting applications there seemed like a great idea,” Haghighi said.

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