Uber's Artificial Intelligence Enforces Mask Rule
The usage of face masks has been controversial for the majority of the Covid-19 outbreak, with much confusion as to whether they are actually useful or not, however, recently there has been much push for using non-medical face masks to reduce the spread of the virus. As many governments around the world move to ease lockdowns as the spread of the virus slows down, the popular taxi service, Uber, has stated that all drivers in the United States, Mexico, Canada, India, and many countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America, must wear a mask while they are operating their service starting from Monday (May 18th).
To ensure that Uber's drivers comply with this rule, the firm has turned to artificial intelligence. When new drivers attempt to restart their driving service with the app, they are asked to take a selfie which is passed through an artificial intelligence which checks for a worn mask. Though this is a good system to ensure that no under-protected individual starts transporting individuals, which could lead to easy spreading of regional outbreaks, Uber concedes that they are unable to use facial recognition to check if the selfie uploaded is actually of the driver himself or of someone else. As scary as it may sound, the technology for that is not out of reach with Uber having done live facial confirmation before in another system called the "Real-Time ID Check" system, which was a system to confirm whether the person behind the wheel is the same person as the Uber profile.
This is not the first time that artificial intelligence has been used to counteract the Covid-19 outbreak with examples including Exscientia, Healx using artificial intelligence to find a cure for the virus and other services being created to track and predict outbreaks of the virus. However, it is important to state that the technology is not there yet for AI to lead the cause, but it certainly can help with certain aspects where artificial intelligence can outperform humans.
With over 14,000 fines issues for lockdown breaches in the United Kingdom, it is extremely important that Uber does whatever it can to prevent people from acting on any anti-lockdown sentiment, and that includes resorting to any high-tech measures. The company itself has faced much financial strain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, having recently announced 14% of their own permanent workforce is losing their jobs. Apart from just allowing for easier travel during the lockdown, Uber restarting also helps the financial strain that itself and many of its workers around the world are facing as the tourism industry around the world grinds to a halt due to the pandemic, though it is almost certain that the demand of Uber will be significantly reduced.
One of the not-so-talked about impact of the outbreak is that many different firms and countries have taken moves that decrease the privacy of many citizens around the world, with Google and Apple using cellphone towers to figure out if someone has been near an infected person as an example of something that would be seen as dystopian before the outbreak. Now as Uber is joining the fray of companies that are reducing privacy, it is good to remember that this is a necessary move for now.