Artificial Intelligence

16 Fascinating Ways Philly Is Using AI


From pothole repair to emergency medical response to unraveling the mysteries of human biology, here’s how Philly is upping its game with artificial intelligence

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Comcast is using AI-enabled tools to improve network reliability. It’s just one fascinating way AI is being used in Philly. / Photograph courtesy of Comcast

Mere human intelligence? That’s for plebeians and Luddites. If it suddenly feels like we’re all augmenting our game with artificial intelligence — that’s because we are. From pothole repair to emergency medical response to unraveling the mysteries of human biology, here’s a survey of some of the fascinating ways AI is being used in Philly.



Where: Citywide

What: COVID was a nightmare for internet providers, as online traffic surged upward of 50 percent in some markets. Comcast deployed AI-enabled tools to instantaneous­ly detect degradation to its network performance, whether caused by damage to a fiber-optic cable or other impairments. Comcast says these tools have dramatically improved reliability, reducing the time it takes to detect issues from about 90 minutes to 90 seconds.

Excited or anxious? Excited! If it keeps Hulu from buffering or stalling during Shogun, we’re enthusiastically on board.


Where: Grays Ferry

What: This start-up makes robots that cruise around the grocery store, checking inventory. Simple yet highly accurate, these autonomous AI systems supply managers of stores and warehouses with real-time snapshots of their stocks, freeing workers to perform more essential tasks and minimizing empty shelves. A spinout of Penn’s GRASP Lab for robotics and machine learning in 2017, COSY raised an immediate $2.35 million in seed funding from backers including Intel.

Excited or anxious? Moderately excited. Admit it: The grocery robots are kinda cute.

Health Care

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Philly health-care companies are using AI / Image generated by AI

Every Cure

Where: University City

What: Rare diseases often require innovative treatments, but not always brand-new ones. This research nonprofit deploys AI as a matchmaker between doctors and existing medications. Every Cure surveys data from tens of thousands of approved medications using AI, which then rapidly suggests oft-overlooked applications for them. The computers research ways of administering life-changing medicine in a fraction of the time it would take humans. Earlier this year, Every Cure received a $48 million award from the federal government to expand its matchmaking program.

Excited or anxious? Excited! This is one of the most hopeful uses of AI — the development of medications, vaccines, and personalized health discovery. Incredible!


Where: University City

What: You know those endless warnings on drug-prescription TV commercials: “Birth defects, blood clots or suicidal thoughts — contact your provider”? Well, they may be scary, but thanks to Lithero, at least they’re accurate. Now nearly a decade old, this company uses AI to fact-check marketing materials for life-sciences companies and their agency partners so they comply with regulators and maintain brand consistency.

Excited or anxious? Poof — another job for humanities majors bites the dust. Color us anxious.

Connect America

Where: Bala Cynwyd

What: Seniors, people with disabilities, and those with chronic diseases often require intensive monitoring at times but don’t need round-the-clock care. Enter Connect America, which provides personal emergency response systems to nearly a million people in North America. This AI-powered system monitors vitals and unexpected activity for remote care.

Excited or anxious? A powerful tool to help reduce burnout for nurses and care providers. Mostly excited.


University of Pennsylvania

Where: University City

What: The first Ivy League school to create a bachelor’s degree in AI, Penn has long championed innovation in the AI space. Since 1979, its GRASP Lab has been incubating ideas from undergrads, graduate students and faculty in the area of robotics — pushing the field forward by improving AI’s ability to master skills like spatial awareness, visual acuity, and natural language processing — which in turn have yielded discoveries about mysteries of the human body, and beyond. “What we’re trying to develop [using] neural networks informs our understanding of a lot of other biological systems,” says faculty member Pratik Chaudhari.

Excited or anxious? So excited! Don’t look now, but GRASP is piloting technology that can allow an unmanned drone to map the visual chaos of a dense, dark forest to extract data about carbon conversion, pests and endangered species, which could have applications for climate science and conservation.


Where: University City

What: Americans fear public speaking more than they do spiders, unemployment and even death. Orai is a local start-up that offers an AI speech coach in app form. The system analyzes your voice recordings, gets familiar with your cadences, and then tells you things like when to slow down and how to replace filler words while providing supplemental lessons for improvement. It’s a comms consultant in your pocket.

Excited or anxious? Both! Overcoming our (considerable!) fear of public speaking is great. A robot teaching us to do it is unnerving.

The Arts

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Image generated by AI

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Where: Center City

What: In 2022, the Orchestra invited Turkish artist Refik Anadol to install a 40-foot-high LED screen to serve as a backdrop to performances. As the musicians played, the screen’s imagery morphed as though an audio-reactive painter was behind it. But it was actually an AI system — trained on millions of human-made images — generating abstract swirls of color and endlessly shifting shapes that moved to the music.

Excited or anxious? Excited. Watch the mesmerizing video online. Human or not, it’s art. We think.


Where: Wilmington

What: Have you seen what AI can do with video? It’ll reimagine Harry Potter as a Berlin techno-raving teen with ease, just for funsies. So why not have it “shoot” your company’s training and instructional videos? That’s where Colossyan comes in, creating videos from text using AI that’s been trained with the likenesses of real actors. Those professional videos can then be translated into dozens of languages with the click of a button — no subtitles required.

Excited or anxious? Anxious. Jeez, leave something for humanity to do.


Pennsylvania’s Office of the Administration

Where: Harrisburg

What: Josh Shapiro might be the most tech-forward governor in the country. In January, he launched a first-in-the-nation partnership with industry leader OpenAI to pilot innovative uses of ChatGPT within the daily operations of government administration. “There are opportunities to use these tools in day-to-day writing, helping with repetitive tasks, looking at larger documents while doing research,” says Harrison MacRae, our state’s director of emerging technologies. (Elsewhere, the state of Maine has temporarily banned government employees from using ChatGPT.)

Excited or anxious? TBD. Let’s see how far this goes. If AI starts counting votes, we’re out.


Where: Select bus routes

What: Along two SEPTA routes, over the course of 70 days, the transit agency found 36,000 obstructions of bus lanes and bus stops — mostly illegally parked vehicles. Those were just some of the findings by AI-powered camera systems installed in a pilot program last year. After mapping the issue, city officials gave SEPTA the go-ahead to begin ticketing drivers using the same AI technology.

Excited or anxious? Mildly anxious, because ugh, more tickets! We can sleep a little easier, though: One in five obstructing vehicles had out-of-state plates.

The Department of Streets

Where: Citywide

What: Potholes, sinkholes and pockmarked pavement — you name it, Philly roads have it. Sure, you can call 311, and eventually (hopefully?) someone from the city will come and verify the damage, then schedule a repair. Or you can put your trust in AI. The Streets Department partnered with the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology to test AI-powered solutions to help identify roads in need of repair. A pilot used high-tech sensors that were installed on municipal vehicles to measure cracks and unevenness, which then factored into priorities for repairs.

Excited or anxious? All for it. Save our hubcaps! Again: Save our hubcaps!

Safety & Security


Where: Manayunk

What: Security-cam footage has traditionally been analyzed after something goes wrong. This company deploys AI within rapid-response video analytics systems that can detect unusual activities as they happen for property and business owners — such as an uptick in foot traffic that signals the need for more cashiers or a protest assembling in the lobby of an office building.

Excited or anxious? Fairly anxious. Kognition also integrates facial recognition into its security analytics, and that info is cross-referenced against databases. Unnerving!

Office of Innovation and Technology

Where: City Hall

What: The city’s Office of Innovation and Technology recently launched SmartBlockPHL, a pilot project that installed 14 streetlights in Midtown Village that collect intricate metadata on air quality, foot traffic, weather conditions and more. The idea is that the program will provide insights into how our sidewalks are being used.

Excited or anxious? Not sure. It sounds … okay. Or is this just more evidence that Big Brother is watching?


Where: Conshohocken

What: Developed in 2018 by former Navy SEALs and military veterans, this company’s eponymous product detects guns by integrating AI into existing camera systems to spot them before the human eye could, alerting law enforcement within five seconds after a weapon has been positively identified. The company frames the tool as a deterrent to mass shootings. Clients have included the Ocean City School District and, briefly, SEPTA.

Excited or anxious? Anxious, with a caveat. There are legit concerns about facial-recognition tools and racial profiling, though cities need all the help they can get to reduce gun violence.

Element 84

Where: Callowhill

What: Last year, the company acquired a longtime leader in the local AI space, Azavea, for an undisclosed amount of money. Now the merged company is offering solutions that rely on algorithms to process, visualize and analyze geospatial and earthly observation data — applied to challenges such as monitoring watersheds, flood plains and traffic patterns.

Excited or anxious? Humans clearly aren’t going to save the planet; maybe AI will?


>> Click here to return to “How Philly Learned to Love AI”

Published as “Reality Check” in the June 2024 issue of Philadelphia magazine.


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