December 7, 2016
To further its efforts in autonomous cars, Uber acquired AI startup Geometric Intelligence and appointed its leads, Gary Marcus and Zoubin Ghahramani as co-directors of its new in-house AI research division. In addition to Marcus and Ghahramani, that company’s entire 15-person staff will also become part of Uber. Since Uber inked that deal, its value now approaches $70 billion. The new team’s first task is to tackle the data from millions of Uber rides, to further development of the computers that run self-driving vehicles.
The New York Times notes that “Google, Facebook and others” are also delving into artificial intelligence. “Every major company realizes how essential AI is to what they’re doing,” said Marcus, who co-founded the company in late 2014. “Because of the scale of data people are operating on, even the smallest gains in efficiency can turn out enormous changes at these companies, especially in terms of profit.”
Many tech companies approach AI through deep learning, whereby algorithms attempt to mimic human brain functions.
Uber was drawn to Geometric Intelligence due to its different approach, combining deep learning with other techniques used to study AI, including the Bayesian and “evolutionary” methods. According to Marcus, “instead of training machines by feeding them enormous amounts of data, what if computers were capable of learning more like humans by extrapolating a system of rules from just a few or even a single example?”
More recently, MIT, New York University and the University of Toronto have also adopted this approach, which fueled a breakthrough “in which artificial intelligence advances surpassed human capabilities for a narrow set of vision-related tasks.”
Uber plans to utilize its AI Labs for more than self-driving vehicles, singling out “combating fraud, extracting information from street signs and learning to improve its mapping research and capabilities.”
“When step function changes in this field occur, we’re going to see very significant differences in how businesses run themselves,” said Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden, adding that the new AI Labs and Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (home to Uber’s autonomous vehicle research) will work together.