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Artist's impression of an artificial brain

Low-income commuters who rely on public transit face many challenges—multiple transfers, long waits, and off-hour travel—that aren’t measured in the usual ridership surveys. Vanessa Frias-Martinez, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, wants to ease their commute by harnessing two hot trends in computer science, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), which Congress now hopes to scale up dramatically for U.S. scientists.

With support from the National Science Foundation, including an NSF-funded effort called CloudBank (see sidebar below) that subsidizes access to commercial cloud services, Frias-Martinez plans to track the movements of thousands of Baltimore residents while protecting their privacy. And by applying AI algorithms to the large data sets, she hopes to identify ways to eliminate transit bottlenecks and improve service. Frias-Martinez predicts CloudBank “will flatten the steep learning curve” for first-time cloud users like her.

Congress has now embraced a plan to ensure there are many more. The National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (NAIIA) of 2020, which became law last week, aims to bolster AI activities at more than a dozen agencies. Its... see more