Uber has submitted a patent for a feature that uses artificial intelligence to detect if its customers are drunk, simply by the way they use their smartphone.
The 'Predicting User State Using Machine Learning' patent aims to identify people in an "abnormal state" from factors including number of typos made, walking speed, and who precisely a customer clicks on buttons and links on their phones.
"The user behaviour may be compared against the user's prior behaviour to determine differences in the user behaviour for this request and normal behaviour of prior requests," the patent states.
"The system can alter the parameters of a service based on the prediction about the state of the user requesting the service."
This means that Uber drivers could theoretically refuse to accept passengers deemed to be in an inebriated state.
Critics have also pointed out that the feature could be used by drivers to identify vulnerable passengers.
IT strategist Marando Freeman noted on Twitter: "Uber presents itself as an alternative to drinking and driving, but is seeking technology that would enable drivers to discriminate and/ or potentially abuse drunk patrons."
US civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, who has represented female Uber passengers in rape cases, added that the feature could be dangerous given the company's previous record of accusations surrounding abusive drivers.
Uber said in a statement: "We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers.
"We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features."
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