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U.S. Bill to Allow AI to Help Ease Traffic Flow Moves Forward

The bid to use artificial intelligence to lessen traffic congestion on roadways cleared a U.S. House panel on Tuesday, despite objections from some who believe it could lead to a government takeover of society.

(TNS) — U.S. Rep. Garret Graves' bid to use artificial intelligence to lessen traffic congestion on roadways cleared a U.S. House panel on Tuesday, despite objections from some Republicans who said it could lead to a government takeover of society.

Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican, sponsored H.R. 1500, the Intelligent Transportation Integration Act. The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to use data from private third parties — such as the Waze or Google Maps apps — to help traffic planners find shorter and more efficient routes for drivers. The statistics would be gathered and bundled; individual app users would not be identified.

"What this does is it's designed to take aggregated anonymous data and use it to inform transportation planning," Graves told House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

But the legislation advanced only after amendments that would have gutted it narrowly failed on 23-38 vote — with 23 of the committee's 35 Republicans wanting to remove the wording that allows government to use the technology.

Opponents argued that the bill's wording gave the transportation secretary too much discretion over the issues of privacy and civil liberties. Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who is an Iraqi War veteran and a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, led the dissent.

Perry argued that the phrasing would allow the federal government to use anonymous data and artificial intelligence for any purpose the secretary deems would improve management capabilities and efficiency of the nation's transportation system, including for planes and trains.

"That could mean anything," Perry said. "If our purpose is to create a gigantic Skynet for every mode of transportation, let's at least come out and just say that. Let's not leave it for the secretary or any other future administration, Democrat or Republican for that matter, to decide just how far this program goes."

Skynet is the fictional artificial intelligence network that ran killer robots in the Terminator movie series.

"You're not getting the fact that the federal government has not been a very judicious arbiter of your data in their hands, handing it over to all manner of other federal agencies," Perry said.

Republican Reps. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, and Doug LaMalfa, of California, joined the criticism, arguing that the bill gave a president's administration too much power in furthering a green-energy agenda to lower carbon emissions and replace internal combustion engines on vehicles with electric motors.

"We're contorting ourselves into this ballgame over a tiny increase of CO2," LaMalfa said.

Graves responded that AI would find more efficient routes to work and thereby would save drivers gasoline, cut down on vehicle wear-and-tear, lower carbon emissions and result in fewer crashes.

"I didn't see anything in here that requires a tin foil hat," Graves said, adding that he and the bill's supporters worked closely with privacy advocates and experts to come up with protective language.

He also pointed Perry to the Pennsylvania government website, which outlines how that state's transportation department has already expanded its use of AI to improve traffic there.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Rick Larsen, D- Washington, jumped in to say that Perry's series of amendments would remove the language needed to authorize the use of data gathered by third parties.

Republican Rep. Rick Crawford, of Arkansas, pointed out that the American Transportation Research Institute, an advocacy group representing truckers, estimated that traffic congestion increases operational costs for the trucking industry by $74.5 billion annually. And a 2019 Texas A&M study calculated that the average American commuter spends 54 hours a year waiting in traffic delays.

"Traffic congestion not only hinders our economic competitiveness by stifling the movement of freight but it also undermines Americans quality of life," Crawford said.

Should a majority of the 435-member House approve, H.R. 1500 would head to the Senate for consideration.

©2023 The Advocate, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.