On June 7, 2018, Uber applied for a patent request that would allow artificial intelligence to detect the intoxication level of a prospective passenger. According to the patent application, = drivers would receive an alert of their potential passengers’ possible state of inebriation based on a series of factors, which could allow drivers to reject passengers, but would also allow more experienced drivers to be matched with inebriated passengers. Based on the user’s state, it might be possible that passengers would not be allowed to opt for a shared ride.
How Would it Work?
According to the patent application, the system would use an algorithm that would consider a multitude of factors. For instance, in order to predict the user’s state and level of inebriation, the technology’s artificial intelligence would be able to detect a user’s data input speed, accuracy, and walking speed. Furthermore, the app would be able to detect how long it takes the user to request a ride and at what angle the user is holding their device. Other factors that would be taken into account are day of the week, time of day, and location.
For instance, the app could make accurate assumptions of the user’s state if the user is requesting a ride on a Friday night, but is swaying and making many typos while setting the pick-up and drop-off locations. Additionally, the company’s patent application included that it could tailor its services for inebriated passengers by “modifying pickup or drop off locations to areas that are well lit and easy to access.”
Who Will be Benefitting from this Technology?
For many drivers, this technology could be beneficial. In general, intoxicated passengers can be difficult to deal with for drivers, especially inexperienced ones. According to a CNN report, Harry Campbell, author of The RideShare Guy blog, said that “It would be cool if drivers got extra money for picking up drunk passengers. It’s not a big deal, but it definitely gets old after about the 25th time.” Additionally, there have been instances where intoxicated passengers have attacked their Uber drivers.
While this new technology could potentially benefit drivers, there are still concerns about its use. Uber does not have a perfect record regarding consumer data. According to The Guardian, Samuel Ward Spangenberg, Uber’s former forensic investigator, said that Uber employees frequently abused “God View,” the company’s tool that allows employees to see all cars in the city and the personal information of riders, to spy on “high-profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses.” Moreover, according to a Business Insider article, in May 2014, Uber’s data was breached, but this breach was not discovered by Uber until September 2014. It took the company until February 2015 to notify the affected drivers, and the company had to pay $20,000 in fines for not reporting the breach in a timely manner.
According to a CNN report, at least 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. have been charged with sexual assault in the past four years, adding another potentially concerning aspect to this invention. With Uber holding this data, users may be worried about drivers taking advantage of this information, especially since CNN reported that “many of the police reports and court documents involved passengers who were inebriated or drinking before getting into an Uber.”
The Guardian also speculates how this tool “could be misused when it comes to charging customers.” The article brings up how Keith Chen, a behavioral economist at UCLA and head of economic research at Uber, discussed in an NPR interview how Uber is aware of how customers are more willing to pay a higher fare when their phone batteries were low. As The Guardian article states, “one imagines that drunk passengers are also likely to be less cautious about how much money they’re spending.”
Apart from these concerns, users might consider such methods invasions of privacy. However, it is too early to conclusively say how Uber will be using consumer data, as this system is just a patent at this point. According to CNN, “the patent application’s authors are current or former members of Uber’s Trust and Safety team, which works to make the company’s products safer.”