Uber’s Fatal Mistake

According to a report on The Information, the drama at Uber continues with Travis Kalanick trying to regain board control. The company has always been a subject of fiascos such as sex scandals and alleged IP theft. But in my opinion, none of them is as irrevocable as Uber’s short-sighted publicity move of disclosing their AI efforts.

Uber is a convenient, affordable solution; besides it’s fun! Yes, **fun**, because more often than not, its network of drivers can spice up a dull period of transportation with lively conversations. It must be condescending for the driver to know that the organization she is working for (or “partnering up with” in their lingo) is also in bed with technologists that will kill her job.

Robots, before taking over drivers’ jobs, can very well do barista tasks. Yet, I have not heard a single time Starbucks doing PR of the new robot technology that they’re working on, which will soon make all their partners’ jobs obsolete.

There’s no doubt that Starbucks has looked at such advanced techniques. And Uber should definitely work on or stay close to the developments in this field. But just like Starbucks, which knows people don’t wait in long lines just to get sugary coffee but actually to see a smiling face to start the day with, Uber should cherish the value of its network of drivers; and

(a) not disclose any futuristic work that they’re working (there’s something to learn from Apple’s playbook)
(b) internalize that self-driving cars would be an option, not a replacement of their drivers
(c) their drivers (especially the good ones) will always be sought, at the very least at the uberBLACK level, for the decades to come.

Uber is in a competitive space. Its only competitor may seem to be Lyft today, but it is a fact that Google, Nvidia, and many car companies all around the world are working on AI to automate driving, and they may be eyeing a piece in this unchartered territory. Its people are Uber’s first-mover advantage. It must not alienate them.

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