Apr 19, 2023 - News

San Francisco GPT wants to make public data more accessible

Illustration of robot hands typing on a typewriter.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

San Francisco is getting the ChatGPT treatment.

Driving the news: A group of software engineers launched San Francisco GPT this month, aimed at providing instant answers to a range of questions that residents, house hunters and tourists might have about the city.

Why it matters: San Francisco has a plethora of publicly available information, but it can be tedious to sift through it all.

How it works: San Francisco GPT pulls from data sets from the U.S. Census Bureau, local 311 cases and crime information to answer questions like "Which neighborhood has the most parks" or "Which four neighborhoods had the most crime incidents involving guns or knives in 2021?"

  • It uses Open AI's text generator engine GPT to convert those natural language questions to SQL, a programming language used to communicate with databases.

Be smart: San Francisco GPT is in beta mode, and it's worth reminding that the technology it's based on is not perfect.

What they're saying: "We are big fans of AI and think that AI can be used for a lot of public good and to help communities," Rahul Sonwalkar, an AI engineer, startup founder and one of San Francisco GPT's creators, told Axios.

  • San Francisco GPT aims to "empower more people to ask questions about data," Sonwalkar said.

Between the lines: San Francisco's own data portal, Open Data SF, enables you to search through a number of datasets across a variety of city departments.

  • Yes, but: It's cumbersome.

The big picture: Generative artificial intelligence has taken the tech world by storm since the November release of ChatGPT, with companies large and small rushing to add some form of the new technology into their products, Axios' Ina Fried writes.

Of note: Sonwalkar also helped build Census GPT to explore crime, age, race, gender, income, education and population data throughout the country.

What to watch: Sonwalkar and his fellow contributors are actively working to add other data sets to the tool, such as information about where the most Victorian houses are in the city, he said.

  • Down the road, Sonwalkar said San Francisco GPT would like to enable people to add their own databases to expand the types of questions the tool can answer.

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