Artificial intelligence (AI) is an evolving and important tool, enabling technology to augment human tasks and perform tasks humans cannot or would not. In the field of transportation, automated vehicles (AVs) are perhaps the best-known application of AI. However, there are other examples of AI which can improve safety, operational performance, data collection and analytics, and provide other benefits in transportation.

AI technology is already in widespread use for consumer-facing products such as ChatGPT, wayfinding on Apple and Google maps, and product recommendations on Netflix or Amazon. There are many ways AI could be applied within the transportation industry to improve safety outcomes and operations, or reduce costs to agencies and taxpayers. However, it is not as easy as applying an existing algorithm to a transportation challenge. Government agencies are subject to public accountability and must abide by strict regulations on when and how data is collected, analyzed, and stored. Public awareness and scrutiny around AI make it even more important that transportation professionals understand how AI works, mitigate or eliminate risks, and communicate effectively the benefits of this technology. Ignoring it or declining to incorporate it into practice is not a viable or desirable option. Instead, informed policymakers and practitioners can use AI to improve safety, service delivery, and equity, saving taxpayers money and creating a system that better serves the public.

Given the potential for AI-based advances in transportation, practitioners should know what AI is, how it works, and its limitations and challenges. Regulatory agencies and private AI companies have opportunities to apply AI technology in a safe, effective way, and to explain why specific applications are improvements over similar work being done by a human. That starts with transportation practitioners and policymakers understanding the technology and making decisions on when and how it should be applied.

The goal of this policy brief is to inform the transportation industry at a basic level about the opportunities that AI offers and enable informed decisions about when and how to use it. It is intended to make AI less intimidating and more approachable so that more transportation practitioners feel confident thinking and talking about AI. Moreover, there is value in the expertise that transportation professionals have. It should be used to inform and influence the development of AI and its application in the industry.

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Read more from Renee Autumn Ray on her Contributor Page.