Opinion: Uber's latest AI bid could lead to some serious consequences

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 13, 2018, 11.31 AM (IST) Anushka Dixit

Uber is now working towards a way to determine if a customer booking a ride is drunk or not. A patent application filed by the company this week outlines the use of artificial intelligence to identify the current state of a customer. 

The system identifies how you would typically use the Uber app so that it can determine unusual behaviour. 

If the customer seems to appear intoxicated, the ridesharing app could deny rides to them or may match them with other drivers who have the right training to deal with such a situation. 

Uber may even monitor drivers who pick up inebriated passengers as instances of sexual assault where passengers were found to be drunk are on the rise globally.  

Is Uber indicating drunk driving?

The success rate of such a technology seems unclear as of now. The use of this technology and the consequent results are put to question since Uber has the authority to deny the ride to the drunk customer. Uber presents itself as an alternative to drunk driving but is seeking technology that would enable drivers to ignore such passengers - who may not have any other means to get home. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 individuals in the United States die every day in drunk driving accidents. This means someone dies every 51 minutes because someone is driving under the influence of alcohol. 

The sole purpose of booking a cab is to get you home when you are not in the condition to drive yourself - it could be because of alcohol consumption or it could be because you are tired etc. Regardless, if Uber is given the authority to deny a ride to a person in need what will they do? If someone is wasted, are they running a risk of potential danger to life?

Customer information abuse

There could also be a possible risk of assaults involved. Uber, in the past, has been subject to sexual assault allegations whose drivers have taken advantage of drunk passengers and, now, the fact that drivers will have information about the state of their customers perhaps may put their safety into question. As per reports, at least 103 Uber drivers in the US have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the last four years, with many of the police reports noting that the passengers were inebriated or had been drinking before getting into the car.

The ridesharing company, in the public eye, got their act together after the resignation of the scandal-ridden co-founder Travis Kalanick and the appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as CEO last year. However, there has been some dreary incidents regarding customer data.  

Uber’s notorious “God View” tool, for example, which showed the location of users who had requested a car, was abused by employees to track the location of their exes as well as monitor celebrities and politicians, according to an October 2016 court verdict by Uber’s former forensic investigator.

There is no confirmation that Uber’s patent application is anything other than a plan in process at the moment. There have been no comments by the company regarding the same. 

A system like this could be terribly misused, violate privacy and could be a serious threat to the people. This is still at a nascent stage, but it must be understood that even though the concept behind this idea could be to prevent the drivers to go through the odious situation of dropping back drunk passengers, it could seriously pan out in the opposite direction for the them as well as the company and pose some grave backlash. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Anushka Dixit

Anushka is digital news writer at WION. Her primary getaway is music and baking. Besides news, she has a passion for writing about artificial intelligence, market trends and scientific discoveries.