Uber pulls the covers off of its new AI lab

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • As the capability of new artificial intelligence systems improve more organisations are leveraging AI products and tools to help them maintain and extend their competitive edge


 

Uber have announced that they’ve launched an artificial intelligence (AI) lab and acquired Geometric Intelligence, an AI startup, as the company looks to use the technology to improve the performance and efficiency of its driverless vehicles and products.

 

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The effort marks Uber’s biggest step yet into AI, which has become a key competitive battleground for the technology companies dotted along the west coast, and its use in the transportation space is hotting up substantially as companies, such as Tesla, who have their own AI lab, along with many others begin to use AI in anger to improve the performance of their autonomous vehicles and optimise their services – which, in Ubers case will likely include their using AI to improve routing, matching passengers to rides, and one day using it to underpin their future flying taxi service.

“With all of its complexity and uncertainty, negotiating the real world is a high order intelligence problem,” said Jeff Holden, Uber’s Chief Product Officer, and he pointed to cars, planes and robotics as all needing better navigational intelligence.

As tech companies increase their focus on AI, buying AI start ups in oder to get into the space has become more common.

Terms of Uber’s acquisition were not disclosed, but its new AI lab will be formed from the staff at Geometric Intelligence and led by Gary Marcus, a cognitive scientist at New York University. Formed in 2014, Geometric Intelligence focuses on an area known as “sparse data”, which allows computers to make inferences using relatively small data sets.

 

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The company is known for taking an interdisciplinary approach to AI – its founders include Mr Marcus, a professor of psychology; Zoubin Ghahramani, a professor of machine learning at the University of Cambridge; and Kenneth Stanley, a computer scientist at the University of Central Florida.

As Uber has grown, it is by far Silicon Valley’s most valuable private company, with a recent valuation of $68.5bn from investors,  it has also become more acquisitive. Earlier this year, the company acquired Otto, an autonomous driving truck company that recently showed off Americas first driverless truck delivery with Budweiser, in a deal that included more than $600m worth of equity in Uber, and a share of future trucking business profits.

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