If Uber is going to make its dreams of self-driving ridesharing cars a reality, it’s going to need a lot of expertise in artificial intelligence… and it’s taking big steps to make that happen. The company has created Uber AI Labs to fuel its research, and it’s getting the team started by acquiring AI startup Geometric Intelligence. It’s a small 15-person outfit, but the newly purchased company stands out by resisting the urge to train AI by feeding it large data sets. As the New York Times notes, Geometric Intelligence prefers to have systems create their own rules from just a handful of examples — while Uber ride data will help, the AI won’t need a wealth of knowledge to make informed decisions.
Autonomous driving will be the star of the show at the new labs, but Uber is promising that its AI work will shape a lot of its day-to-day business. It could improve the accuracy of predicted arrival times for your rides and UberEats deliveries, tackle fraud and improve the chances of UberPool matching your car with other travelers. Ideally, you’ll notice the difference well before you set foot in a driverless Uber car.
This is also a preemptive strike against the competition. The company tells the NYT that there’s a fierce battle for AI talent — acquiring Geometric Intelligence prevents Uber from losing out to Lyft, Google and others hoping to put machine learning to work on the road. It’s playing the long game, in other words — this is less about immediate gains and more about securing Uber’s future.