Uber will not Abandon Self-Driving Vehicles

After much speculation, including my own, Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi stated to the press that Uber is not abandoning its self-driving project. In Khosrowshahi's own words: "We are absolutely committed to self-driving cars. This is an important technology. Ultimately, self-driving cars will be safer than humans, but right now self-driving cars are learning. They're student drivers. You need a safety driver with a student driver. When that student driver graduates, it will be safer than humans."

Uber has been collaborating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), since the fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona where Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year old woman lost her life in an Uber self-driving crash as she crossed the road with her bike late at night.

Khosrowshahi stated that "What happened with Elaine Herzberg was an absolute tragedy and we are doing two things. First of all, we are working with authorities at hand, NTSB, the NHTSA, they are the professionals in determining who is at fault. We don't want to get in their way, and we are getting them all the data necessary so that they can make the determination of exactly what happened and why. Right now, our fleet is grounded to be safe."

Not only is Uber dealing with an self-driving related death, they recently lost an Apple engineer, Walter Huang, who was in one of their vehicles during self-driving mode.

The road to success is always dotted with victims and not only fatal ones. Khosrowshahi also related to the recent Facebook Cambridge Analytics incident where Facebook technology was being misused for political campaign reasons. Khosrowshahi stated that with the use of technology "shows the challenges of technology getting into everyday life and the responsibilities that come with it. I think that Silicon Valley understands that with building these platforms comes the responsibility to make sure that those platforms are being used for good and the old days are over, and you have got to take this responsibility seriously, and you have got to invest behind it."

Its all about safety, whether its safety of information or safety of systems, the bottom lines boils down to how safe is technology in the hands of man and in use for the man. After all, it was Isaac Asimov that created the three laws of robotics, which states:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws are great, but what do you do when the "robot" is not thinking? After all, there is no real AI, the concept of "thought" is a fallacy. The most an AI can do follow algorithms that allow it to address a situation based on a long list of data that it adheres to. The system will perform safely, so long as the data being listed can be adapted to a real-life situation, such as a woman with a bike crossing the road on a dark night in Tempe Arizona.

The rules of robotics don't apply to AI or self-driving , so in essence, it is the human element that is in charge, and as such, the human element is either the safety driver in the car or the company operating the self-driving . The same driving laws should apply to them, and not be waived away in the face of "technology."

Khosrowshahi is basically one of many explorers on a new expedition into the world of the human-robot interface, as well as data security. He recognizes this by saying "I am confident that we are doing everything that we can. I am confident that we are investing very aggressively it is one of the areas of greatest growth in investment at the company. You can never be too sure of yourself because if you are too sure of yourself that is when someone strikes so, we continuously invest in data making sure that it is secure it is an arms race. What I can say is that we are using your data for you to make your experience better. We don't sell that data. We don't try to monetize it. The use of the data is for you, knowing where your home is, knowing where your work is, etc. to make sure the service is as best as it can be for you."

Of course they wont, why would they. Its a trillion dollar business in the making. If Uber has its own tech, and can maintain a global fleet, or partner with an automaker and provided the service for managing an AV fleet, then they would not abandon that future for the sake of one unfortunate and fata accident. How many people were killed in car accident, plane crashes and ships sinking? Did we stop using them? No, and that is why all the speculation on Uber’s AV future is that, pure speculation based on hearsay and personal opinion, but not on fact.