How do you feel about an app judging how drunk you are? Uber Taxi Company wants to use artificial intelligence to do exactly that, through their existing mobile application and have applied for the patent. Which means the research and development must be almost complete.

How can an app decide if you are drunk?

The patent application sitting at the US Patent Office states that the tech would detect uncharacteristic user activity. It will do this by combining a number of factors such as how the user is walking, the accuracy of their typing and how they are holding their phone; as well as their precise location.

Why does a taxi firm need this level of technology?

The main aim of the app is to make it easier for Uber drivers who don’t want to pick up drunk passengers. Uber’s statement about the matter is quite vague, “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”

The idea that Uber drivers are likely to avoid inebriated customers does seem to contradict one of their previous marketing strategies. According to American news source ABC , Uber has worked alongside organisations that campaign against drunk driving with a ‘call an Uber instead of getting behind the wheel yourself’ line. On the website for the US charity Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they are the first of their listed ‘Partners’ and have the tagline ‘Official app of the designated driver’.

As far back as 2014, they have had notable and laudable success, with a Benenson Strategy Group finding that 78% of surveyed people said their friends are less likely to drive after drinking since Uber arrived in their city. This new AI development does seem to go against the anti drunk driving stance they are currently benefiting from.

Why are some people concerned about this development?

Others are concerned about Uber collecting even more data on their potential customers because their current data protection track record isn’t great.

They were obliged to strengthen their data protection after over 100,000 Uber drivers had their personal data exposed during a data breach. Four years ago drivers and customers found out that Uber were monitoring their current position using God View software which was a blow to consumer confidence.

During the last four years over 100 of Uber’s drivers in the United States were accused of abusing or sexually assaulting passengers. This CNN report found that 31 drivers received convictions for various serious crimes such as rape and false imprisonment. This ugliness was further compounded by Travis Kalanick’s (co-founder of Uber) resignation last June due to sexual harassment accusations.

The entirely reasonable concern is that drivers could use the proposed new feature to target people that are less able to protect themselves because they have had too much to drink.

Is it wise to bestow even more data collecting powers on a company that hasn’t proved it can deal responsibly with the ones they’ve got? Or is it more important to push the patent through just to guarantee the AI research and development is completed? Perhaps the future benefits of what they develop are worth the risk to Uber passengers. What do you think?

If any such projects are currently ongoing in the UK, they would definitely be eligible for R&D Tax relief. A quick check on our free R&D Tax Credit calculator gives you a good estimate of the amount you could be missing out on.


Jamie Smith