Why Uber Should Not Be Allowed To Use A.I. To Alert Drivers Of Drunk Passengers [Opinion]

A.I. has many uses for companies, but Uber should be careful if they choose to roll out technology that can detect drunk passengers.

Uber wants to detect drunk passengers.
Natee Meepian / Shutterstock

A.I. has many uses for companies, but Uber should be careful if they choose to roll out technology that can detect drunk passengers.

Many people love to use Uber to grab a ride to and from bars on the weekends. And most of the time, the drivers can only guess whether their passengers are drunk or not. Now, Uber wants to put an end to the guessing game and has submitted a patent that would allow the company to detect “tired” passengers or someone who “might have difficulty locating the provider’s vehicle,” according to Futurism. The patent never says that it is targeting drunk passengers, but most people have figured out that the purpose of the patent is to detect drunk people.

The A.I. would pick up on a user’s behavior and would alert the system if someone is acting abnormally. This could include how someone is holding the phone, excessive typos, and even if someone is walking down a street near a nightclub. Also, the A.I. would consider the user’s walking speed and even the time of day of the Uber ride request.

If a user exhibits abnormal behavior, then the Uber app could alert the driver that their potential passenger is “in an unusual state,” or only allow drivers with experience with those in an “unusual state” to pick passengers up. Someone in an “unusual state” could also be blocked from joining a carpool, and a pick-up or drop-off location could be changed to somewhere more well lit. Finally, Uber could deny the ride request from someone in an “unusual state.”

Uber has dealt with over 103 Uber drivers that have sexually assaulted passengers, according to TechCrunch. In theory, the new technology could curb future sexual assaults by ensuring that only “drivers with experience” can pick up potentially drunk drivers.

However, there are many potential pitfalls to implementing such invasive A.I. For one, the data that Uber wants to collect on a user is quite extensive. Do users want companies to know what angle they are holding their phone? Or how many typos they’re making? Do users want companies to take intimate personal data to make inferences about their mental and physical state? Many people may not mind. However, in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, consumers should be wary of companies that want to harvest personal data because the information could be purposefully or accidentally used in unintended ways.

Others have pointed out that telling drivers which passengers could be drunk is potentially dangerous and could lead to predatory behavior. Meaning, drivers could become approved to pick up drunk drivers by racking up a positive track record, only to assault a drunk passenger down the road.

Moreover, giving a company the ability to accept or deny a user’s request based on A.I. technology is quite cutting-edge and not considered by current laws. What if the A.I. misjudges someone’s physical state and prevents someone who is sober from rightfully hailing an Uber? Does this mean that in order to get an Uber at specific dates, times, and locations, that one must “act right”?

If Uber indeed implements this new technology, it may impact their profit in the long-term. Many users may simply opt to use other alternatives, like Lyft or traditional taxi cabs.