Scandal-ridden ridesharing service Uber is beta testing a new service that focuses on catering to autonomous riders, in addition to traditional fleshy passengers.
“We analyzed millions of customer interactions across more than six years and 15 cities,” states Uber’s new Director of Customer Analytics, Giuseppe Ponzi, “and we realized the one common theme to all negative incidents was the fact that we cater entirely to human passengers.”
Uber has faced numerous scandals over the past few years, including lawsuits and allegations of drivers assaulting passengers and breaking traffic laws, as well as high-profile battles with local taxi services, city councils, and social media issues. These issues culminated with the resignation of Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalashnikov in early 2017. Since then, Uber has been run by a team of diverse executives working together as a committee to decentralize decision making and build more consensus.
According to artificial intelligence experts, Uber is making a bold move into unknown territory. “A few years ago, catering to autonomous riders would have been a pipe dream,” according to Dr. Seth Jenkins of UC Berkeley’s Marx School of Entrepreneurship. “But with constant advances in cyborg technology, the need to work with high-maintenance, litigious human riders is constantly being diminished. And most robots don’t carry cash or have vaginas, so the incentive for driver malfeasance is greatly reduced.”
Initial tests will take place in San Francisco, with near-term expansion plans into four other cities. Many questions have arisen from this strategy, including how autonomous passengers will pay, as well as how much need they will need to travel via car.
Mr. Ponzi describes an ideal scenario: “Let’s say you’re a housecleaning robot in Nob Hill, but you just got a GoCleanMe request near the Presidio and the job starts in 10 minutes. You can either cede that job to a bot already working nearby or you can grab an Uber and be there on time.”
Various communities in San Francisco have already expressed opposition to Uber’s plans. Carla Lopez of the Latina Housekeepers’ League explains that “[Uber] is trying to encroach on our business and replace human labor.” Acknowledging that technical displacement is a common trend in low-skill employment, she emphasized the need for humans “because your robot isn’t going to make fresh tamales or DVR the latest episode of Amor Escandoloso for you to enjoy later.”
The battle between these groups has already intensified as researchers at Mexico City’s Universidad Autónoma de las Sciencias Autónomas del Auto have filed for patents to bring autonomous cars to the US as early as 2019. Their service, Huemo, is a contraction of Huecoand Llamo, which is a loose reference to “Calling for a space that needs filling” in reference to their overall business model.
UPDATE 9/28/17: Google has just filed suit to stop Huemo from encroaching on its patents and naming.