Uber Views Artificial Intelligence as Key to Growth

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Uber AI Labs Self-Driving Cars

Location plus intent are key factors in artificial intelligence and Uber is emerging as an expert in both.

The ride-hailing service is creating a Uber AI Labs division to develop technologies, and to that end recently acquired Geometric Intelligence, a New York-based artificial intelligence startup.

The focus is software for self-driving cars. “Driverless cars are going to be at the center of what we do,” said Geometric Intelligence CEO Gary Marcus, in The Wall Street Journal. “We’re going to have the opportunity to do basic research that dovetails with [Uber’s] mission.”

Technologies for improving traffic prediction, language comprehension and visual understanding are crucial for fully autonomous driving.

“Instead of training machines by feeding them enormous amounts of data, what if computers were capable of learning more like humans by extrapolating a system of rules from just a few or even a single example?” asked Marcus, in The New York Times. Known as “one-shot” machine learning, this scenario uses AI to advance and surpass human capabilities for a narrow set of vision-related tasks.

“It’s going to be a very long time before a self-driving car will be able to make all the kinds of trips that Uber does every single day,” said Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, in the Times. “But the answers to this are all going to come in the form of artificial intelligence.”

Earlier this year Uber bought self-driving truck company Otto and recently delivered its first autonomous shipment to Colorado. With the acquisition of Geometric Intelligence, Uber is now valued at nearly $70 billion.

“With all of its complexity and uncertainty, negotiating the real world is a high-order intelligence problem,” Holden wrote in a blog post. “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.”

Uber AI Labs will start hiring “aggressively,” Marcus said, and will begin recruiting this week at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference on machine-learning meeting in Barcelona.

“Every major company realizes how essential AI is to what they’re doing,” said Marcus. “Even the smallest gains in efficiency can turn out enormous changes at these companies, especially in terms of profit.”

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