By Data-Smart City Solutions • October 13, 2017

Each week we will bring you a summary of what happened this week on our site, on Twitter, and in the wider world of civic data. Suggest stories on Twitter with #ThisWeekInData.

Here on Data-Smart, Chris Bousquet outlined the innovations that are moving cities closer to Vision Zero’s goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. The next wave of Vision Zero initiatives seek to fill gaps in data in order to improve understanding of the causes of collisions and inform interventions. New tools include an exposure model that can determine the number of cars on city streets at any time, a video analytics platform that examines the causes of near misses, software that analyzes driver behavior, as well as crowdsourcing platforms and risk models that prioritize equity.

Also on Data-Smart, Stephen Goldsmith and Chris Bousquet discussed the possibility of replacing traditional government forms with a system that uses existing government data to resolve problems before residents even ask. With better data sharing across agencies and levels of government, citizens could receive services much more efficiently. For example, when low-income parents submit income, family size and other information to apply for reduced-fare transit, why should the state not automatically enroll them in earned-income tax credits?

The Sunlight Foundation profiled Chattanooga, TN’s use of a chatbot to help residents navigate the city’s open data portal. While still in beta, the chatbot can bring users to datasets they request, provide suggestions of popular datasets, and report on user interactions to improve the interface going forward.

Microsoft announced TechSpark, a new national civic program to introduce digital initiatives designed to foster greater economic opportunity and job creation in six non-metropolitan communities across the United States. By partnering closely with leaders and communities on the ground, the initiative’s goal is to learn more about regional challenges and how technology can help better contribute to local economic growth. Launching first in Fargo, ND, the initiative will also serve Northeast Wisconsin, as well as regions in Virginia, Texas, Wyoming, and Washington State.

The New Inquiry published a piece on data’s potentially dangerous seductive power. When viewed as a source of revolutionary truth and a disinterested picture of reality, data analysis can legitimize biased conclusions by covering them with a veneer of objectivity. On the other hand, when approached with the acknowledgment that humans create data and algorithms, and with consideration of unintended consequences, data analysis can produce valuable insights that prioritize fact over intuitions.

Also on the topic of using data ethically, the Washington Law Review discussed the role of copyright laws in promoting the problem of bias in artificial intelligence (AI). Copyright law limits access to algorithms and encourages AI creators to use easily available, legally low-risk sources of data even when those data are demonstrably biased. However, applying the fair use doctrine to AI may be a fruitful means of gaining access and rooting out bias.

The City of Boston announced a $35,000 Digital Equity Fund, which will provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today's media and information landscape. Through the project, Boston hopes to enable residents to use digital tools to pursue professional and civic endeavors, engage with the Internet safely, and increase broadband adoption.

GovTech explored the possibility of using Blockchain to enable secure online voting in the United States. Blockchain is a public ledger, a bulletin board meant to ensure accuracy based on the fact that everyone can see it — and what’s been done to it — at all times. It is a potential solution to the problem of cybersecurity in online elections because the foundation of blockchain is the audit trail: if anybody tampered with votes, it would be easy to see and prove. However, many think the potential for blockchain miners—those validating votes—to tamper with votes is too much of a risk for such a high stakes application.