Did Uber Buy An AI Startup To Make Self Driving Cars Smarter?

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Ask yourself, what’s the best thing about Uber? Is it the convenience of paying digitally via your PayPal account? How about the cheap car share options? Or is it perhaps the ability to get yourself a ride with the absolute minimum interaction with other human beings? If the last answer applies to you, you’re going to be ecstatic about the news that Uber is working as hard as they can to make self-driving cars a reality within the next decade. The question is, why are Uber working so hard for this to happen?

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Disorder In The Court

Uber most recently lost a court case in the United Kingdom regarding the employment status of their drivers. Uber has previously classed their drivers as self-employed, meaning the company has less responsibility and liability for their drivers, as well as being able to withhold many benefits that they would enjoy as an actual employee. The court case dictated that it was unlawful for Uber to do this and that their drivers must be classified as real employees. Uber fears a domino effect in other court cases worldwide now that a precedent has been set. This should lend proper context to why Uber bought AI firm Geometric Intelligence and rolled them into their in-house Uber AI Labs.

So why this firm in particular? Self-driving cars rely heavily on AI that can learn and make instant decisions safely. Pre-programmed AI is almost useless on the road because programmers could not account for every variable it would run into while driving. The end goal for Uber is to create a self-learning AI that works almost like the human mind, and is capable of processing and solving new problems presented to it in real time.

Although now a major player in the AI space, this wasn’t always the case. Uber have come under criticism for effectively buying their way into the market by purchasing and poaching smaller technology companies with promising work in AI. Unfortunately, this is all too common when a cash-rich company wants to enter a burgeoning market with immediate effect.

Sweet Home, San Francisco

Uber’s AI Lab is currently based in technology hub San Francisco, and all members of Geometric Intelligence are expected to move there shortly. San Francisco is already a center for AI research, with many tech giants and small startups alike being located within the city and on its borders. Already an expensive city, the presence of all these highly paid professionals have driven rent costs and house prices up exponentially, to the point where many families who are historically situated within San Francisco are being forced to move because they can’t keep up with the cost.

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This has led to immense animosity between the everyday residents of San Francisco, and the tech-sector professionals that are migrating to the city en masse. There have actually been reported incidents of violence against tech professionals because of this issue. Unfortunately, no solution to this problem has presented itself, and more families will be continued to be pushed out of the city as more technology professionals move in.

The Future Is Now (Kinda)

Uber has already started making inroads towards pilots of their self-driving car schemes, and as recently as September made it possible to take self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh. You’ll have to wait if you want fully driverless cars, though. The self-driving Ubers in this test included a safety driver prepared to take manual control if needed, as well as an AI analyst monitoring the performance of the car.

If you’re excited at the idea having an Uber all to yourself without having to interact with a single person, then you’re going to be disappointed there’s still a while to wait yet. Rest assured, though, self-driving cars are on the way, and the process has only been expedited by Uber’s rush to become a leading player in the sector.

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