May 21, 2019

The Secret (and Dangerous) History of Self-Driving Cars

“American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Duhigg published a shocking exposé in the New Yorker regarding the ongoing legal saga of former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who defected to Uber in 2016 before being fired. The fine print of the exposé contains shocking claims regarding Google’s negligence — including claims that Google never publicly reported multiple autonomous vehicle crashes, and that Levandowski took autonomous cars on “forbidden routes” for which the car’s software was not trained to handle.

The report depicts Levandowski as a stereotypical startup guy: self-important, imperious, and possessing a techno-utopian worldview that drove his belief that the rules don’t apply to people like him. (Notably, Levandowski is the founder of a pseudo-religion that believes God will be an artificial intelligence.) Levandowski is best known for his role in a year-long litigation between Uber and Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo. Specifically, Waymo alleges Levandowski stole confidential files full of trade secrets when he left Google to start his own self-driving car startup, which was eventually acquired by Uber.

According to the report, Levandowski was in charge of hardware development for “Project Chauffeur”— Google’s secret self-driving-car division that later evolved into Waymo. At some point, his obsession with innovation overtook his morality, which resulted in an unreported crash involving one of Google’s self-driving vehicles.”

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