Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi: self-driving cars today are ‘student drivers,’ will ultimately be safer than humans

Dara Khosrowshahi speaks at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo)

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he is personally overseeing a “top-to-bottom” audit of the company’s safety procedures for self-driving cars, after a vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona last month.

Khosrowshahi said in an appearance on NBC’s Today Show that the incident was an “absolute tragedy” and the company is working with authorities to figure out who was at fault. Uber halted its self-driving test program after the incident, which appears to be the first known death of a person hit by an autonomous vehicle on a public roadway. However, Uber remains committed to the technology and will not cede the race for self-driving cars to the growing list of competitors.

“Ultimately self-driving cars will be safer than humans,” Khosrowshahi said. “But right now self-driving cars are learning, they are student drivers, and we need a safety driver with a student driver. But when that student driver graduates it will be safer than humans.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi appears on Today. (Screenshot Via Today)

Today host Savannah Guthrie also asked Khosrowshahi about Facebook’s data breach scandal. Khosrowshahi maintained that Uber does not sell customer data or try to monetize it in any way.

Khosrowshahi said Uber uses its customer data to benefit riders and keep them safe. A new emergency button within Uber’s app connects a rider with 911 and a new pilot program being tested in Denver relays location information directly to dispatchers so that help can arrive faster.

Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has joined Uber to lead a new safety council. Among a number of new safety measures, Uber will run annual background checks on drivers and work with a firm that monitors criminal arrests.

Khosrowshahi, who served as CEO of travel giant Expedia before taking the top job at Uber last year, said the situation at Facebook is a wake up call to the unintended consequences that can come with the proliferation of technology into daily life. Khosrowshahi thinks the industry is starting to see that and adjust accordingly, but it is an ongoing battle.

“Early on these tech companies were fairly idealistic for the right reasons,” Khosrowshahi said. “We were building platforms and on these platforms, good will come, people will do good things on the platform. But the fact is human beings are sometimes good and sometimes not. And I think that Silicon Valley is understanding that with building these platforms comes responsibility to make sure that those platforms are being used for good, and the old days are over and you have to take this responsibility seriously and you’ve got to invest behind it.

Here is the full interview with Khosrowshahi:

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