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Uber invests in artificial intelligence with a new acquisition and division

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Worawee Meepian/123RF
Uber drivers, look out. Your employer may be looking toward a driverless future.

On Monday, the San Francisco-based transportation giant revealed that it had acquired artificial intelligence research startup Geometric Intelligence, a New York-based company seeking to “[redefine] the boundaries of machine learning.” The 15 employees of the startup will comprise the new Uber AI Labs, a division located in the company’s West Coast headquarters “dedicated to cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence and machine learning.” The hope of the new Uber subgroup, Geometric Intelligence co-founder Gary Marcus told the BBC, is to leverage AI to solve a whole host of problems — everything from providing better traffic predictions to perhaps creating a flying car.

And of course, a car that drives itself.

“Uber is in the business of using technology to move people and things in the real world. With all of its complexity and uncertainty, negotiating the real world is a high-order intelligence problem,” the company wrote in a blog post announcement. “It manifests in myriad ways, from determining an optimal route to computing when your car or UberEats order will arrive to matching riders for UberPool. It extends to teaching a self-driven machine to safely and autonomously navigate the world, whether a car on the roads or an aircraft through busy airspace or new types of robotic devices.”

The ride-sharing behemoth certainly is not alone in its push toward AI and its myriad possibilities. Many of its Silicon Valley neighbors, including Google and Facebook, have invested considerable time and resources into the new technology, and still others, like Apple and Amazon, have proven just how useful AI can be by way of their smart assistants (Siri and Alexa).

But, Uber points out, “we are still very much in the early innings of machine intelligence,” something the company hopes to change.

“Every major company realizes how essential AI is to what they’re doing,” Marcus told the New York Times. “Because of the scale of data people are operating on, even the smallest gains in efficiency can turn out enormous changes at these companies, especially in terms of profit.” So be warned, friends. Those gains you’re making as an Uber driver today may one day soon go away.

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