An unidentified man is driving Uber taxi
June 26, 2018

Uber’s new patent application to identify drunks

Uber, the ride-hailing service, has filed a patent application before the US Patent and Trademark Office that would allow for artificial intelligence technology to distinguish sober users from drunk or fatigued users.

The proposed machine learning technology uses information such as the angle at which a user is holding their mobile phone as they call for an Uber, location, walking pace, accuracy of button clicks and typos to identify the ‘state’ of a passenger.

The following wording (taken from the patent application) explains that the specifics of the patent:

“The system trains a computer model to predict a user state of a user using data about past services. The prediction is based on data associated with a request submitted by a user. Request data can include current data about the user’s behavior and information about the service that is independent of the particular user behavior or characteristics. The user behavior may be compared against the user’s prior behavior to determine differences in the user behavior for this request and normal behavior of prior requests. The system can alter the parameters of a service based on the prediction about the state of the user requesting the service.”


The reason provided for the patent is to ensure that users in a drunk, fatigued or unusual state may be paired with drivers who have special training or skill, or may be rejected by the service altogether. In addition such drivers can be alerted to the state of the passenger. The application says the technology is a means to avoid “safety incidents and personal conflict incidents [that] can occasionally occur when users and/or providers behave uncharacteristically.”

Safety and privacy campaigners may consider the patent inappropriate, given that over 100 Uber drivers have now been accused of sexual assault and this could provide a way for predatory drivers to target helpless riders who may not be in a state of adequate control. In addition, Uber has recently paid $20,000 in compensation relating to a data breach. Such further collection of data could therefore be seen as controversial.

This patent application further emphasises Silicon Valley’s mounting curiosity in artificial intelligence technology. Amazon, Google and Facebook have all recently invested in the development of computers or systems that can demonstrate human-like intelligence, with the aim to make everyday life easier for their users.

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