Wednesday 31st of January 2018 and the famous Waymo-Uber jury trial started with jury selection. The trial is set in San Francisco federal court and pits Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle research division against rideshare giant Uber in a massive information theft and trade infringement case. The story goes like this; a former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski, working at Waymo left the company to start up his own technology company Ottomoto. Waymo claims that he stole thousands of confidential documents when he left the company. This would have made the case between the beginner and Waymo, however, a year after the new company was formed, the engineer brokered a deal with Uber.
Waymo started researching AV technology back in 2009. Google, Waymo’s parent company, was the first major corporation to investigate the new concept with full investment and priority. Google injected $1 billion to start the ball rolling, and the technology was literally designed from the ground up, where every aspect of the technology was created from scratch.
Uber is claimed to have stolen eight trade secrets in collaboration with Anthony Levandowski. The secrets are all around the light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology that was developed through years of trial and error. The technologies not only provide the blueprint for a successful LiDAR they also prove what does not work, and that saves time and money when considering future research avenues.
Waymo intends to prove that Uber orchestrated the deal before the engineer left Waymo. Uber and Waymo were partners in the AV research stage. According to Waymo, the engineer opened the company under Uber’s directions and then the deal between the two companies could become official. The crux of the case will be proving that the engineer stole the files and proving that Uber was more than aware of the theft, that Uber was in full collaboration with the engineer.
It is a common activity where companies try to gain access to confidential information through any means possible. There are many ways to do this and in most cases, always involves a disgruntled or greedy employee in a competitor’s company. This is not restricted to Silicon Valley, but this case is a classic example of two giants battling out superiority over a major technological breakthrough. The first company that provides a 100% safe and accurate AV system will have an extreme advantage in cornering a large percentage of the global transportation market.
There is another aspect to “trade secrets,” when Judge Also, the presiding judge committed that you cannot stop an engineer from remembering and using the knowledge gained through research when they move to another company. What happens when such an engineer decides to work for the competition? Do you stop that person from remembering everything he/she knows? As judge Alsop asked and answered “Is an engineer really supposed to get a frontal lobotomy before they go to the next job? I think the answer has to be no.”
Uber intends to distance itself from Lewandowsky, by claiming that it told the engineer not to bring any Google documents with him when he started to work as head of Uber’s AV division. They will also claim that they never had any such documents on their servers as well as prove that they only took Lewandowsky based on his expertise and not due to his holding Google documents. Both Uber and Waymo agree that Lewandowsky downloaded 14,000 documents upon his leaving Waymo. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was in negotiations with Lewandowsky while he still worked for Google. However, the question remains, did Uber willingly participate in the event? Did it orchestrate the theft and subsequent employment of Lewandowsky? These are the questions that will be discussed in court.
One of the possible routes that Lewandowsky might take is an insanity plea; this is due to his decision to create a new religion that worships an artificial intelligence God. One has to ask, why did he decide that now? and how does he consider a created intelligence to be a “God” that needs worshiping? The very concept of artificial intelligence removes the necessity for prayer. This goes towards proof of the oxymoron of his new found faith as well as the objectives of its creation.
We can discuss this issue, and the main causes of the case for months, but it is now in the hands of the Jury to hear both sides and to deliberate on a number of questions, including Lewandowsky’s mental state during and after the theft.
The AV research sector has hundreds of billions of dollars invested into it, from car manufacturers, hi-tech (IT) start-ups, banks and rideshare companies all competing for an added advantage over the competition, and with dates being bantered about suggesting that within the next 2 years we will see AV’s fully incorporated into a global transportation system.