Technology

Driverless vehicle competition revs-up with Uber’s AI startup acquisition

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Uber acquires an AI research startup for self-driving automobiles as it looks to take-on transportation and shipping competition like John D. Rockefeller did over 100 years ago.

Uber launched the Uber AI Labs division today in San Francisco after acquiring New York-based AI startup, Geometric Intelligence.

Recognizing Artificial Intelligence as the hottest technology of the future, the investment into AI and machine learning solidifies Uber as a key player among the major tech giants, especially in the development of self-driving automobiles for transportation and shipping.

According to the official release, Uber’s business in technology “extends to teaching a self-driven machine to safely and autonomously navigate the world, whether a car on the roads or an aircraft through busy airspace or new types of robotic devices.”

Uber has built its reputation from providing an alternative to public transport by employing human drivers with competitive pricing. Now, the company is looking beyond human intelligence to build not just self-driving cars, but autonomous aircraft as well.

John D. Rockefeller’s control of shipping and transportation

standard-oil

This grab for control of transportation and shipping is very similar to what John D. Rockefeller did in the late 1800s when he brokered a deal with the railroad companies to transport Standard Oil’s shipments at a discounted rate from competitors. This monopoly essentially led to Standard Oil being broken up into smaller subsidiaries after the anti-trust movement under former US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Fast forward to today, and the idea of controlling transportation and shipping still exists. The difference is that today, there is much more competition, and Uber doesn’t have the massive influential (or legal) clout that Rockefeller once had before the trust-busters came along.

Instead, companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon have all recently invested in AI research with the goal of marketing driverless cars. Utilizing AI as a Service (AIaaS), Uber’s goal of transporting people is just the tip of the iceberg.

Read More: Partnership on AI vs OpenAI: Consolidation of Power vs Open Source

The control of shipping transportation via railroad was what stamped out competition for Standard Oil, and the same goal to stamp out competition still exists today, only this time with driverless vehicles.

Uber’s Shipping and Transportation Competition

Ever since Amazon switched from being just a bookseller to an entire corporation that ships almost every known commercial product through its online portal, the company has positioned itself as the world’s largest internet-based retailer.

With Uber looking into AI for autonomous aircraft, yes, it could mean that the company is looking to shuttle actual people, which would either create partnerships or competition with the airline industry, but a more reasonable explanation for the near future use of driverless aircraft would be for shipping goods as well.

This would put Uber in direct competition with Amazon for delivering goods via driverless air and land vehicles. Adding to the competition is Google, which in February was approved by the US patent office for the legal use of an “autonomous delivery platform.” And just yesterday, Apple confirmed rumors that it is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

Read More: Google receives patent for driver-less delivery vehicles

In January of this year, Amazon partnered with Ford to develop of fleet of driverless cars ready for shipping. In an interview with The Telegraph, Ford’s CEO Mark Fields said that “revenue from transportation services equal $5.4 trillion,” but that Ford had not received a single penny from that lucrative industry.

With Uber, Amazon, Google, Apple and others all investing in AI and machine learning to develop driverless vehicles, the race is on to dominate transportation and shipping once again. If anyone is paying attention to history, John D. Rockefeller’s dominance of the railroad industry was one of the major reasons why he became the richest and most powerful man the United States had ever seen.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co