March 11, 2022

AI Roads and Civic Engagement

In my morning RSS reading I saw this article from the council: Liverpool looks to AI to improve highways investment. From it:

The council’s Highways and Transportation team has set out a new evidence-based approach using a mix of AI and photography[...]

There was little detail about the "AI" being used, but there was a link to the report being presented to Cabinet, so I had a read through that. There's no mention in there of AI, but maybe it's in one of the appendices?

They aren't included in the report PDF, but digging around on the Council website to find the agenda for the Cabinet meeting (along the way wondering again about creating a RSS feed of meetings and agendas or minutes) that agenda item has links to separate PDFs for them. (The agenda page itself also has nice HTML which, if you know enough to view source—so not especially discoverable—lets you link direct to that agenda item!)

There's no mention of AI in the appendices either, but there is a table with references to "GAIST rating" values for carriageway and footway. Googling for "GAIST" brings up these folk. This is presumably the "AI". I watched one of their "technical presentations" which had very little technical information in it, but it seems like they're driving round the country videoing things and then running "deep learning" on that information.

Their sales guy in one of the "technical presentations" says: "It's not necessarily a case of the computer says you do this, the computer says you do that, but it gives you data for you to decide what to do".

He's right, a human should be deciding. It's hard to tell from the report whether we've done any deciding beyond picking a number above which a road is deemed worthy of attention.

What are the criteria that GAIST use to generate the ratings? There's precious little information that I can see on their website about it. It seems to be "cameras and sensors" -> "AI deep learning magic" -> "number". What is it trying to measure? How black the tarmac is? Number of pot-holes/metre?

Is it any good at measuring what it's trying to measure? Have we done any tests to satisfy ourselves that the rating is similar to the sort of rating that our highways engineers would give? It isn't viable for the Council to have someone rate every metre of our roads, so using some automated processing probably makes sense — but how do we know this one works?

And maybe there aren't any other options, or this is the best approach. There just isn't enough information for the public to know.

Mostly I'm channelling my inner-Bianca Wylie and picking away at how to better engage with the Council to make the city better.

I'm not sure what my next step is. I'm not sure I'm quite at the making presentations to the meeting (assuming that's an option). It's good to see that they're now live-streamed, so I will stick it on in the background while working to get a feel for proceedings.

One of my ward councillors should be in attendance, so I could email him with some questions or raise some points; but I've yet to have a response from last time I emailed him. Ditto the Cabinet member quoted in the press release.

Maybe I'll get more of a feel for how useful they both are on the livestream, in lieu of any first-hand experience from contacting them. And in lieu of a better idea of what to do, I'm blogging my thoughts...

UPDATE: So, I listened in to the meeting. It all seems very procedural, and that the time for making any changes to things is before it gets to this point. Maybe that means that anyone who bothered to turn up would be so out of the ordinary that they'd shake things up?

Posted by Adrian at March 11, 2022 01:53 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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