Census demo day showcases open data, AI tools

Open data is fueling federal, private and nongovernmental tech projects aimed at addressing challenges ranging from geospatial mapping and disaster recovery to health care to the workforce.

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At a March 1 demo day of federal, private and nongovernmental tech projects, the Census Bureau showcased a variety of open data and AI tools aimed at addressing challenges ranging from disaster recovery to health care to the workforce.

In response to the Opportunity Project tech sprint hosted by the bureau, technologists and data specialists from federal agencies, businesses, citizen interest organizations and the general public demoed their tech projects using data from a wide array of federal agencies.

Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, praised the projects for using federal data outside of its original context.

"Liberating data is one of the main focal points of the White House," he said. "How do we liberate data to bring it forward to folks who are very innovative… to solve some of the foremost problems?"

Among the presenters were a group of deliveries from the Department of Health and Human Services' TOP Health tech sprint, stood up with help from Presidential Innovation Fellows.

Of the 10 teams that created digital tools using open federal data and artificial intelligence for the tech sprint, two highlighted their projects at the demo day: one a chatbot built by Microsoft to match patients to clinical trials, and another created by Olivia Goodreau, a 14-year-old who built an app where users can report and track potential disease-carrying ticks in real time.

Other workforce-related projects put artificial intelligence to work on data from the Departments of Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and others.

One such project, built by IBM, was an AI system connecting veterans transitioning to civilian life to jobs matching their skillsets and interests.

Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella also announced the agency would formalize a department-wide data board and appoint a chief data officer "this coming month."

A series of other projects used data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and focused on disaster recovery, particularly relating to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

One of the problems in the wake of Hurricane Maria was that many households in Puerto Rico have multiple addresses. To help locate these houses, one project included a database of standardized address, compatible with state and local governments. Another project presented was a videogame set in a digitized city to allow users to explore the landscape during a disaster and promote protective actions.

Other presenters touched on their federal data-based projects aimed at helping local communities and governments respond to the opioid crisis, homelessness, education and other local challenges.

Looking ahead, Drew Zachary, director of Census's Opportunity Project and co-director of its Open Innovation Labs, announced the bureau would be hosting similar tech sprints in the near future. Zachary won a 2019 Federal 100 Award for her work on the Opportunity Project.

One sprint, she said, will center on getting people to respond to the 2020 Census. Another will be a prize competition launching in the summer, and the third will solicit submissions for problems facing government later this year.