In a new development marking the continuous rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the New York City Subway has started employing AI to monitor fare evasion. The subway system is harnessing third-party software that can spot people avoiding fares and the system was already operational in seven subway stations as of May. While this move underscores the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) commitment to reducing the staggering $690 million lost to fare evasion in 2022, it’s raising serious concerns among privacy advocates and social justice proponents. They argue this is another instance of deploying technology to criminalize and target the less privileged, instead of focusing resources on making public transportation more affordable and accessible.
Despite assurances from MTA spokesperson Joana Flores that the AI system doesn’t alert the police about fare evaders, the potential for a policy change remains looming. The AI system’s main objective, according to the MTA’s communications director Tim Minton, is to count the number of fare evaders and decipher their evasion methods. This data could be utilized differently at any given moment, bringing to light how the introduction of AI systems could lead to unpredictable policy shifts. This approach, while financially justified from a transit authority’s standpoint, is drawing criticism for further encroaching on privacy rights and exacerbating socio-economic inequalities. It’s a sobering illustration of how, once artificial intelligence becomes part of our daily operations, its use and impact can potentially shift without warning.
You can read the full (heavily redacted contract HERE
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