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NCDOT leader on using AI and cloud-based apps to advance transportation equity

Artificial intelligence and cloud-based applications can help state agencies build powerful data tools to improve how they serve their communities. North Carolina Department of Transportation is one such agency working on a series of pilots and modernization initiatives to integrate tools that will help to advance transportation equity across the state’s diverse communities.

In a recent interview, Tunya Smith, director of the Office of Civil Rights for NCDOT shared how the agency is using new technologies to drive efficiency and productivity across the organization.

“One million people do not have reliable transportation in North Carolina. We have the second largest rural population, and we’re growing quickly. Especially our older population…need safe, reliable transportation, and a growing proportion of people want multi-modal choices,” she explained.

Modernizing all technologies at once is not financially feasible for the state, so they have been working on a series of pilot projects and low-lift integrations to build out their capabilities.

“The most sophisticated pilot program is one we’re doing now with UNC Charlotte [testing shuttle vehicles] that interact with traffic signals and operate in the most intense mixed traffic environment, that includes other vehicles and shared stops with the existing campus bus fleet.”

Smith elaborated on how the agency is focusing on ways to build resilient communities, prepare for anticipated hazards, adapt to changing conditions and recover rapidly from disruptions. She cited the state’s struggle with landslides as an example of one natural disaster that often disrupts commuter and commerce traffic. Integrating NCDOT data and alerts with applications like Google Maps and DriveWise helps to provide safer routes to drivers to reduce traffic, avoid hazards and allow for commerce and travel to continue.

She also explained how NCDOT is using a suite of AI services to expand access to the traveling public, such as expanding language access for North Carolina’s diverse communities and using advanced interpretation services in airports and public transportation. NCDOT is also applying sentiment analysis to inform decisions around equity.

“That’s how we’re really using [AI] to serve our mission, and most importantly, North Carolina’s diverse communities,” Smith said.

She added, “advanced technologies can greatly aid equity leaders by making transportation more accessible, providing analytics and visualization to make data digestible, aggregate multiple data points and offer solutions to complex challenges.”

Smith pointed to her office’s role in ensuring proper guardrails for innovation to get ahead of ethical issues, data privacy and algorithm biases.

“For instance, powerful new tools can help us as we manage the Department of Motor Vehicles system for 7 million drivers. But we must be careful to ensure these technologies are helping us make responsible decisions so we’re not unwittingly discriminating against vulnerable populations.”

Watch the full interview and learn more about integrating AI to improve mission outcomes. Also, you can hear more from other state and federal government leaders on their AI and Security initiatives.

This interview was produced by Scoop News Group for StateScoop, and underwritten by Google for Government.