Uber's CEO: ‘We are absolutely committed to self-driving cars’

The chief executive of Uber Technologies, Dara Khosrowshahi.
Adriano Machado | Reuters

On March 18, one of the cars in Uber's self-driving vehicle pilot program hit and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking across the street in Tempe, Arizona. The next day, Uber halted its pilot programs in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Toronto.

Despite this, Uber is still envisions self-driving cars a key part of its business.

"[W]e are absolutely committed to self-driving cars," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC's "The Today Show," during an interview that aired Thursday.

"This is an important technology," Khosrowshahi said.

Khosrowshahi took over leadership of the ride-hailing technology company in August after co-founder Travis Kalanick stepped down in June.

Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We're thinking of the victim's family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.

"Ultimately, self-driving cars will be safer than humans, but right now self-driving cars are learning," said Khosrowshahi of the technology, which is still being developed.

"They're student drivers. You need a safety driver with a student driver. When that student driver graduates, it will be safer than humans," Khosrowshahi explained.

In the meantime, Khosrowshahi said, Uber is coordinating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both governmental regulatory bodies.

"What happened with Elaine Herzberg was an absolute tragedy and we are doing two things," said Khosrowshahi. "First of all, we are working with authorities at hand, NTSB, the N[H]TSA, they are the professionals in determining who is at fault. We don't want to get in their way and we are getting them all the data necessary so that they can make the determination of exactly what happened and why."

Also, the tech executive said he has ordered a review of the safety processes of the self-driving-car testing program, which, he says, is still temporarily halted: "Right now our fleet is grounded to be safe," said Khosrowshahi.

Electric vehicle company Tesla is also dealing with the fallout of a car accident involving self-driving technology. An Apple engineer, Walter Huang, was killed on March 23 while driving his 2017 Tesla Model X with Tesla's Autopilot systems engaged.

In addition to speaking about Uber's long-term plan for self-driving cars, Khosrowshahi addressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent testimony about user privacy on Capitol Hill.

It "shows the challenges of technology getting into everyday life and the responsibilities that come with it...," said Khosrowshahi. He said he thinks the founders originally believed people would use the platforms for good.

"I think that Silicon Valley is understanding that with building these platforms comes the responsibility to make sure that those platforms are being used for good and — the old days are over — and you have got to take this responsibility seriously and you have got to invest behind it," he said.

Khosrowshahi he is working hard to keep Uber users' data secure: "I am confident that we are doing everything that we can. I am confident that we are investing very aggressively — it is one of the areas of greatest growth in investment at the company. You can never be too sure of yourself because if you are too sure of yourself that is when someone strikes so we continuously invest in data making sure that it is secure — it is an arms race," said Khosrowshahi.

"What I can say is that we are using your data for you to make your experience better. We don't sell that data. We don't try to monetize it. The use of the data is for you, knowing where your home is, knowing where your work is etc. to make sure the service is as best as it can be for you."

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