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Among the biggest worries of our age is that artificial intelligence — or AI for short — will sweep in and replace jobs that once required human brains to do. Happily for employees at Transport for NSW, their roles are for the moment safe from this coming hi-tech nightmare. Whether taxpayers are lucky enough to be insulated from the agency’s attempts to bring about this dystopia is another question. Because, as The Daily Telegraph reports today, officials at that agency have spent nearly $40,000 on what was supposed to be a whiz-bang “solution” to provide information to customers about train delays and schedules.
What they came up with is called RITA — or Real-Time Intelligent Transport Assistant — and it is as clunky as its acronym. When this newspaper tested RITA’s acumen at answering simple questions such as “are there any disruptions at Central station today?” or “is the T4 line experiencing delays”, all RITA could do was tell users to go and find the information themselves on the Transport for NSW website. It’s no wonder that RITA hasn’t won any popularity contests with commuters. Since the bot was launched in September of last year, it’s been used by just 10,000 people. RITA has also only garnered 1500 “likes” on Facebook. These are truly tiny numbers for a system whose Sydney Trains service alone boast an annual ridership of more than 340 million.
Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t be too hard on RITA’s low take-up rate given that Transport for NSW’s customers have got other things on their minds than trying to make conversation with a machine.
Like getting to their destination on time, for example. Last week, this newspaper also revealed that Sydney trains are running later than ever, with peak-hour delays recorded for almost 80 per cent in June.
Across the whole month, punctuality targets for trains arriving and leaving Central in the morning and afternoon were only achieved on four out of 28 days.
These numbers are not good enough by any stretch of the imagination. Passengers and taxpayers deserve more for their money than to have resources wasted on fanciful tech projects when the system itself is unable to achieve any reasonable measure of reliability.
This article first appeared on www.dailytelegraph.com.au
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