Damielys Duarte/Staff Writer
In 2016, Uber submitted a patent application for an AI that would determine if a rider is drunk or high, and possibly deny their request for a ride. As Miami gears up as a prime destination for nightlife extravagance and large events that will most definitely involve liquor (such as this weekend’s Super Bowl LIV), the concept represents a huge drawback here, especially seeing how intoxicated people were Uber’s initial targeted population. And although the patent is still up in the air, its tentative approval could be dangerous for passengers.
When the ridesharing app first came out in 2011, its main purpose was to reduce the number of drunk drivers at a safe, convenient and affordable cost. As time progressed, the overall use of the app skyrocketed and suddenly intoxicated drivers weren’t their only users.
This, in addition to incidents between drivers and belligerent passengers, might be why the company would like to roll out the new AI, which would notify the driver if the passenger is in an unusual state, match them with a driver who has experience dealing with intoxicated people, change the pick-up or drop-off location to someplace well-lit and easily accessible, prevent the passenger from joining a carpool and—the most controversial option—let the driver deny a passenger a ride.
While the sentiment behind the idea is in the right place, the decision to refuse service could result in the intoxicated person being left in an unsafe area—or even worse, driving themselves home and getting into an accident.
Many people have also brought up the sentiment that notifying the driver of the passenger’s state could result in higher numbers of sexual assault, especially for young women. Not to mention, many have spoken up about persons with disabilities being negatively affected by the AI as well.
How the program works is it determines the rider’s state by their actions. For starters, it will see how quickly and accurately you type in information, the angle at which you hold your device, your walking speed and location and the time and day at which the app is being used—all of which would contribute to your overall condition and determine your rideshare options.
However, the controversy lies in that many people with disabilities will probably not type, walk, or hold their phone the same way as the majority of Uber users. As such, they could be misidentified as someone in an “unusual state” and denied service for their disability—a clear violation of the American Disabilities Act.
Although Uber should continue improving its rideshare experience in order to provide the safest form of commercial transportation, it should not do so at the expense of denying intoxicated or disabled persons access to their service.
Instead, they should focus on training drivers to deal with intoxicated individuals and perhaps even cater to them. Offering a bucket in case they need to vomit or water to help them sober up could go a long way. Unfortunately, we cannot control irresponsible drinkers, but we can at least ensure that they don’t do something reckless because they were left without options.
Featured image by Stock Catalog on Flickr.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Have questions or comments for our writers? Send an email to email@example.com with your name and the name of the column in the subject line.