Uber envisions a future in which a fleet of vehicles can make the most complex maneuvers while carting passengers around without the help of a driver. To achieve that, cars will need to get a whole lot smarter.
Enter Gary Marcus and Zoubin Ghahraman. The two men are being appointed as co-directors of Uber’s new in-house research arm on artificial intelligence, which the ride-hailing company unveiled on Monday. The research arm’s aim is to apply A.I. in areas like self-driving vehicles, along with solving other technological challenges through machine learning.
The two are joining Uber through an acquisition of their start-up, Geometric Intelligence. Unlike most A.I. start-ups that generally follow one method of study of artificial intelligence, Geometric Intelligence takes a multidisciplinary approach to the field.
All 15 people from the start-up will be absorbed by Uber. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The acquisition and new research arm, which will be called Uber’s A.I. Labs, exemplifies how seriously Silicon Valley tech companies are betting on artificial intelligence. Google, Facebook and others have also pushed into artificial intelligence, which underlies voice recognition software, digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, and technologies like self-driving cars. Many companies are racing to bring on new A.I. talent to compete against one another.
“Every major company realizes how essential A.I. is to what they’re doing,” Dr. Marcus said in an interview. “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.”
With the Geometric Intelligence deal, Uber, which is now valued at close to $70 billion, said it hoped that Dr. Marcus’s team could harness the wealth of data it collects from the millions of daily Uber rides. The company wants to use the data to make major advances in how computers behind self-driving vehicles think and make decisions on the road.