While the SAC recognised that there is a risk of potentially harming the market if regulation is not done carefully, they considered that, otherwise, there is a risk that the majority of data could be controlled by a small number of companies. This may limit the ability of Government to access this ground-breaking technology.

The SAC particularly highlighted the barriers to implementation due to public perception of this technology. There is currently no clear definition for AI and this could lead to misconceptions on the scope and capability for the technology, potentially limiting its uptake.

Both Government and DfT have a critical role in communicating clearly and defining the technology for the general public. It was proposed by the SAC that Government and other public bodies could play a role in supporting the acceptance and growth of the AI market by being a leader in showcasing the technology and through procuring the technology directly in order to drive the market.

A key challenge to the adoption of AI identified by the SAC is that posed by the quality, standards and availability of data for AI systems:

  • AI systems are only as capable as the data they have access to. For AI to be used safely and effectively in transport it must have extremely high validity and accuracy, and needs sufficient coverage of all segments of society. The SAC suggested that a number of the available data sets for transport have errors and/or incomplete information, which will limit the accuracy of AI.
  • To fully utilise the benefits of AI there is a need to combine and link different data sets, however, there is currently little incentive for the current holders of data sets to share them. The SAC suggested that DfT could be a lead in this field by considering which internal data it holds could be made available externally and identifying levers to encourage the sharing of data within the wider transport sector. Organisations such as the Open Data Institute could play a leading role in this.
  • There are currently no standard or recommended practices for data services or data infrastructure.

Recommendations

From the discussion the SAC recommended the following:

  1. The transport data sets held by public bodies should be identified and reviewed for open accessibility as part of a funded, targeted AI, competition on a key DfT challenge. This should enable UK companies, especially SMEs, and academia to access data which would otherwise be unobtainable or require significant investment.
  2. To facilitate the sharing of data between organisations, the Transport Systems Catapult, the Open Data Institute, and others should act as facilitators to bring together data holders and organisations seeking to develop AI systems; and enable the parties to agree terms suiting their needs, which would allow them to share information.
  3. The future uses and benefits of AI in transport should continue to be explored and identified, especially in key areas such as congestion and traffic flows, to enable the future benefits of this technology to be fully utilised.
  4. To improve public perception, wider government should clearly define and communicate a consistent definition and explanation of AI to the general public.