Using deep learning to quantify the beauty of outdoor places
Beautiful outdoor locations are protected by governments and have recently been shown to be associated with better health. But what makes an outdoor space beautiful? Does a beautiful outdoor location differ from an outdoor location that is simply natural? Here, we explore whether ratings of over 200 000 images of Great Britain from the online game Scenic-Or-Not, combined with hundreds of image features extracted using the Places Convolutional Neural Network, might help us understand what beautiful outdoor spaces are composed of. We discover that, as well as natural features such as ‘Coast’, ‘Mountain’ and ‘Canal Natural’, man-made structures such as ‘Tower’, ‘Castle’ and ‘Viaduct’ lead to places being considered more scenic. Importantly, while scenes containing ‘Trees’ tend to rate highly, places containing more bland natural green features such as ‘Grass’ and ‘Athletic Fields’ are considered less scenic. We also find that a neural network can be trained to automatically identify scenic places, and that this network highlights both natural and built locations. Our findings demonstrate how online data combined with neural networks can provide a deeper understanding of what environments we might find beautiful and offer quantitative insights for policymakers charged with design and protection of our built and natural environments.