Waymo's Lawsuit against Uber is perhaps the biggest news last week. It was widely reported by popular outlets - The Wired piece is perhaps the most well-written. The formal complaint is readable and provided more interesting details. We chose the Waymo Medium piece here because it gives you a concrete technical complaints of why Waymo is unhappy. The short answer: "The KFC Bucket".
Why is this such a big deal? The KFC Bucket" you see on top of Google's self-driving car is the LiDAR system. This is the "360-degree eye" for the car - it a set of spinning lasers that maps the car's environment so it knows what's around. More importantly, it is a VERY critical component of any self-driving car. Waymo, born from Google's Self-Driving Project, has invested close to 10 years to refine said technology.
Let's step back a bit: why is LiDAR so important to self-driving car? Generally, self-driving car relies on LiDAR, radar and camera to collect information of its surrounding (Our opinion: audio signals ought to be part of it too). Out of the three, LiDAR is best at providing accurate 3-D representation of the surrounding of a car through laser emission/reflection and you can get information up to 100 meters of your surrounding. From an A.I.-standpoint, such 3-D representation allows better localization of the vehicle, scene understanding, and in turn allows the vehicle plan its movement correctly. In layman's terms, if you can't see well, you can't drive.
Whether LiDAR is crucial to self-driving has always been a question Part of the problem is the prohibitive cost of the device, back in 2013, some quotes suggest it cost up to $80k to include LiDAR into a vehicle.
Then, what is so special about Waymo's LiDAR system? There are two parts of the answers. First of all, it is patented by Waymo in "Devices and methods for a rotating LIDAR platform with a shared transmit/receive path", filed back in 2014. Early this year, report suggest that Waymo was able to cut cost of LiDAR by close to 90%. So what Uber allegedly has is not just an abstract design, but a highly cost-effective production-quality design, which presumably is what that 9GB, 14000 files is about.
Why is all this drama relevant to AIDL? Because autonomous vehicles is one of the most clear-cut and self-contained applications of A.I. that is impactful on many levels. It'll be driven by both innovation and offensive/defensive legal IP positions. For a $60-billion company like Uber, they can afford to litigate. For smaller companies though, as Bryan Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert in self-driving regulations, said in the IEEE piece,
“Companies will discover that trivial yet essential parts of automated driving have already been patented,” ...... “Google’s patent for driving on the left side of the lane when passing a truck comes to mind. These kind of patents could stop startups without a large defensive patent portfolio from even entering the field.”
The last question perhaps is who is Anthony Levandowski? And why was he mentioned so many times? Levandowski is a rock star of self-driving car. He built a self-driving motorcycle back in 2004, worked with Sebastian Thrun in 2007. He then formed two companies, one on mobile mapping using LiDAR, the other is a self-driving Prius. Both were acquired by Google and he worked until early 2016.
From this little description, we know Levandowski is an important figure of Google's effort in self-driving. The Wired piece also painted him as a rule-breaker:
Levandowski has built a reputation for a cavalier approach to rules in general. In December, he insisted Uber’s autonomous cars didn’t need to apply for a special permit under California law and set them loose in San Francisco. The California DMV disagreed and revoked the vehicles’ registrations.
Judging from the complaints, Waymo has evidence on both Levandowski was searching and copying the files, and the fact that he is using the trade secret on Uber's design. Levandowski's departure also lead to many ex-employers left and join his startup Otto, which as you know bought by Uber for $680 million price tag. No wonder Waymo filed such explosive lawsuit. Chris Swecker, a former assistant FBI director, would say "I would be very surprised if there wasn’t a full criminal investigation behind this."
There are many Alphabets subsidiary and two of the buzziest ones are DeepMind which is known for its A.I. expertise and Waymo, a self-driving car company. What is Jigsaw then? Jigsaw first started from Google Idea. You can think of it as a think tank of Google, as its "Vision" page said,
We’re an incubator within Alphabet that builds technology to tackle some of the toughest global security challenges facing the world today—from thwarting online censorship to mitigating the threats from digital attacks to countering violent extremism to protecting people from online harassment.
Jigsaw was on the news because of its latest Perspective API which allegedly can determine the toxicity/civility of a comment. Of course, Perspective get a lot of media coverage - faked news is a very big problem in the States, especially given the current polarized partisan political environment.
We tested out the Perspective API with a sentence like "I am not saying this problem is bad, but some of the ideas are just downright stupid." and I got a 78% score which is "similar to toxic comment". This is a tough sentence for a non-deep learning system because you need to have a long n-gram to associate "not" with 'bad' and since the sentence is long, the toxicity of "downright stupid" may not weigh enough. We guess the system is deep-learning based, maybe recursive neural network or a compositional model.
The Perspective project, unlike other "Graduated projects" of Jigsaw, is still in the development phase. We might look at more updates in the future.