Uber v Google: Self-drive tech clash heads to court

A trial pitting two of the biggest players in self-drive technology against each other has begun in San Francisco.

Ride-sharing firm Uber is being sued by Waymo, the self-driving company spun out of Google.

Uber is accused of stealing and using trade secrets relating to Lidar (light detection and ranging) – one of the technologies that enables an autonomous car to understand what is happening around it.

Waymo is making its case first, and then it will be up to Uber to defend itself.

Emails already shown in court detailed Uber’s ex-chief executive Travis Kalanick demanding “pounds of flesh” from Waymo, while others are said to involve him saying he wanted to “find the cheat codes”.

Waymo’s legal team has compared Mr Kalanick to Rosie Ruiz, a runner who cheated in the 1980 New York Marathon by taking the subway.

Uber will likely begin its defence next week. It is expected the company will not dispute document theft, but instead attempt to convince the jury it did not use the information in its self-drive experiments.

While bitter and expensive legal disputes between tech companies are common, it’s rare for these tussles to be played out in public.

The case is expected to last about three weeks.

At stake is a potential damages payout of hundreds of millions of dollars. Or, perhaps worse, an injunction to halt, or at least hinder, Uber’s self-driving research. This would be a big blow to the company, which once said leading the way in self-driving tech was critical to its survival.

What is the accusation?

The row centres around a man named Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee considered a leading mind in autonomous research.

He worked on Google’s self-driving programme before leaving in January 2016. It is alleged that when he left, he took with him more than 14,000 confidential documents, which were blueprints and other technical information about Lidar.

He then founded Otto, an autonomous trucking company, which after less than a year was acquired by Uber for $680m (£481m). It formed the basis of Uber’s self-driving division, and Mr Levandowski was at the helm.

Waymo alleges this whole process was an elaborate charade, and that Uber, specifically then-chief executive Travis Kalanick, was in talks with Mr Levandowski before he left Google.

Otto was merely a front for Uber’s plan to pinch their technology, Waymo claims.

Uber denies this version of events, though not entirely. It’s not disputing the documents were taken, but insists it didn’t gain anything whatsoever from them.

The crucial point Waymo will need to prove is that not only did Uber have the documents, but that it used them to gain an advantage of some kind.

What are the trade secrets?

In the original filing, Waymo cited 121 secrets and patents Uber was said to have stolen. That number has since been reduced to eight.

The significance of this reduction depends on which company’s spin you want to follow. In background briefings, Uber said the fact so many of the claims were dropped from the case proved they were flimsy.

Waymo said it was forced to select a handful of the most significant claims in order to have a trial that didn’t last months, or even years.

Judge William Alsup’s comments, it has to be said, seem more closely aligned with Uber’s interpretation.

He described at least one of the dismissed “secrets” as “Optics 101” – meaning, the very basics of the technology, not the kind of insight that would justify calling it a secret.

Either way, the jury will be asked to rule individually on the eight secrets. Discussions about the specifics will be off limits to press, but the jury will see each secret in detail in order to make its decision.

Part of that process will be determining whether the information could be considered a secret in the first place.

Key to Waymo’s strategy will be convincing the jury that secrets can cover failure as much as success.

If Waymo spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours discovering that something didn’t work, is Uber capitalising on that trade secret by saving itself the effort?

Who will appear in court?

While Mr Levandowski is on the witness list, don’t expect much if he appears.

Throughout this case, he has “pleaded the Fifth” – the protection afforded by the American constitution to not say anything that could incriminate oneself. Because of this, Uber has since fired him.

Should Waymo call Mr Levandowski to the stand, we can assume it’s theatre – the man at the centre of the row refusing to speak a peep is not a great look for Uber.

We expect, within the first few days, to hear from Mr Kalanick. The controversial co-founder of Uber was forced to step down as chief executive last year following a string of scandals of which this case is but one.

We are also likely to see Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founders.

Less glamorous but perhaps more useful will be the numerous Uber engineers who will be rigorously questioned about how they were directed by Mr Levandowski, and whether those stolen documents and secrets ever surfaced in Uber’s work.

Overseeing the proceedings is Judge Alsup, a favourite among journalists for his highly-quotable courtroom quips, but not a person either legal team will be looking forward to dealing with.

Judge Alsup is a force to be reckoned with: he famously learned some coding skills in order to have a better grasp on a different trial between Google and database specialist Oracle.

What are the strategies and risks?

Jury trials bring about a whole new psychology to how lawyers must approach a case. Attacks and rebuttals must be thorough but not overwhelming; simplified but not patronising.

Uber knows it could face a jury which, being from San Francisco, may already hold a negative view of the company.

During the selection process, Uber asked potential jurors if they were, had been, or just knew a taxi driver – such is the animosity over Uber’s impact on traditional business. It also asked if anyone had deleted Uber’s app in protest at various ethical decisions the company has made in recent times.

Uber’s baggage in front of the five man, five woman jury can’t be understated: Mr Kalanick has a reputation as a hard, cut-throat operator – and that’s just to his friends.

Given a past of covering up a security breach, surveilling journalists, and using secret software to evade government officials, it will hardly be a huge leap for the jury to believe Mr Kalanick wasn’t above tapping up a rival’s star employee.

Privately, Uber accuses Waymo of wanting to dumb down the jury’s technical expertise in the hope of getting jurors who know less about sophisticated technology. Waymo strongly denies this, and if it is to win it will need to do a lot more than paint Uber as some kind of tech bogeyman.

We can expect Judge Alsup to have little patience for anything that strays far from the intricate facts of the trade secrets in question.

Ultimately, it’s up to Waymo to draw a clear line, from stolen documents, to Uber’s self-driving work.

What are the potential outcomes?

Let’s consider the jury decides that Uber stole and used all the trade secrets of which it’s accused. That could mean it would have to pay more than $1bn in damages.

Calculating such an amount could be difficult, though. It’s hard to measure the real cost to Waymo given the technology is yet to be commercialised, at least in the ways these companies envision.

More straightforward would be an injunction that would stop Uber’s self-driving programme altogether.

That would be an extreme outcome – it’s more likely that any injunction would just apply to whichever trade secrets the jury decides were infringed.

As I see it, there is a scenario would allow both companies to claim a moral victory, even if, technically, the decision goes Waymo’s way.

If a jury decides Uber did steal and use trade secrets and an injunction is handed down, Uber will immediately brush it off by claiming it doesn’t use the secrets anyway.

Indeed, the company has already outsourced its Lidar needs to San Jose-based Velodyne. At most, an injunction might impact Uber’s plans to make the technology in-house.

Another outcome, of course, is that Waymo fails to convince the jury that any trade secrets were stolen, and that’s the end of that.

What is the bigger picture?

This case is being so keenly watched because it already represents an enormous argument in Silicon Valley, one about the cross-pollination of ideas and expertise.

When extraordinary brains do incredible work at powerful companies, what right do they have to take those ideas with them?

Uber unquestionably benefitted from Mr Levandowski’s expertise. But is that because of trade secrets, or simply because of who he is?

The jury won’t be asked that question, but the outcome of this case will be seen by many as providing an answer.

source: BBC

iPhone X: Five things that drive me absolutely nuts

For well over two months, my days have ended and begun with the iPhone X. Compared to older iPhones, the X feels impressively fast, slim and, with 5.8 inches of screen space, satisfyingly spacious. But as I’ve grown to appreciate some of its finer points, I’ve also discovered the traits that make me roll my eyes, gnash my teeth and occasionally erupt with a well-chosen expletive.

The funny thing is that almost all of these ire-inducing “quirks” stem from Apple’s redesign of the iPhone X, which removed the home button and installed a bunch of swipes and taps to cover all navigation bases.

On one hand, Face ID and gestures prove that iPhone users can live without a home button. On the other, learning the ropes takes time, and the swipey stand-ins don’t always make a lot of sense. Some iPhone X gestures feel half-baked.

So here we go, my five personal worst iPhone X navigation offenders. Stay tuned for a future piece on some of the things I truly do love about the iPhone X.

Face ID never works when I most need it

Face ID, Apple’s replacement for the secure fingerprint reader, uses the iPhone X’s front-facing camera to approve mobile purchases and unlock the phone.

It works by making a 3D map of your eyes, nose and mouth — except when it doesn’t. Face ID recognizes me often, but fails enough times to make me notice. For example, I have about a 50-50 success rate while wearing my polarized sunglasses.

When it doesn’t work is when I want it to most: as soon as I wake up in the morning. Part of the problem is biological. I’m near-sighted, which means that when I first reach for the phone while my glasses and contacts are resting in their cases, I wind up holding the phone closer to my face than the 25 to 50 centimeters that Apple recommends.

And then there’s the fact that in my groggy morning state, I’m lying on my side with either one eye closed, or my face buried in my pillow.

There’s no way Face ID is boring its way through that, and it’s not Apple’s fault.

What is Apple’s fault is that the iPhone X doesn’t have a satisfying backup plan to my morning squinty-eye. With Face ID, you don’t get an immediate second chance to biometrically unlock the phone, not the way you do when the fingerprint scanner on a home button fails; you just tap it again.

No such luck here. You can wait some long seconds only to have to try again, or lock and unlock the phone to kickstart a new Face ID scan.

More often than not, I wind up typing in my 6-digit password, which is faster than waiting for Face ID to maybe or maybe not unlock. This gets annoying when you do it multiple times a day, every day. I’d love a biometric backup, or a faster do-over time if Face ID misses the scan the first time around.

Bleh battery life

If you’re switching from an older iPhone with battery life that can barely hobble through a single day (especially if Apple did this), the iPhone X is a fantastic upgrade. At least at first.

After two months, I noticed a steep battery decline. Of course your charge will take a hit every time you stream music or video, or use navigation. That’s life with a phone. But even on days when I didn’t engage these things, I found myself topping up the power reserves before going out for the night, unconvinced my phone would make it through the evening activities.

When you live on your phone — texting, looking up stuff online, reading e-books — that uncertainty makes the difference between a device you can trust and one you have to constantly manage.

This isn’t just anecdotal, either. In CNET’s looping-video tests, the iPhone X lasted just shy of 11.5 hours average after 9 tests. That’s two hours less than the iPhone 8and iPhone 8 Plus results with the same test, and six hours less than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (17.5 hours).

Anecdotally, it lasts longer than the iPhone 8 in real-life use, but peters out before the 8 Plus loses steam.

These time windows don’t seem so short in a vacuum, but when you compare the results across the board, the iPhone X — the most expensive mainstream phone you can buy — drains as quickly as some midrange phones that cost less than half the price, if not faster.

To make matters more frustrating, Apple hides the iPhone X battery percentage meter; it isn’t visible at a glance. Instead, you have to swipe down from the top of the phone on the right side of the notch to call up the Control Center. Only then can you keep a detailed tab on how much juice you have left.

Maps navigation shortcut only goes one way

I use maps navigation quite a lot. When you pop out of either Google Maps or Apple Maps to do something else, the iPhone X helpfully puts a tiny blue Tic Tac around the clock, turning it into a nifty little button you can tap to pop back into the map again.

This is great, but Apple stops short. See, you can toggle from any app back into the map, but you can’t toggle from the map back to what you were doing before. So if you’re reading an article, you can pop into the map to check on the directions (using the shortcut) but won’t be able to return to the story (no shortcut).

When you get used to pressing that shortcut button a couple dozen times during a long trip, you’ll be cursing Apple that it only goes one way. Hopefully a future version of the software will make toggling a two-way street.

By the way, the shortcut also works with the phone app (the button turns green), voice memos (red) and some third-party apps.

Is the alarm on or what?

I’m an inveterate nervous-alarm-setter, even on weekends. I just can’t relax unless I know I won’t oversleep (yes, I have problems).

That doesn’t stop me from waking up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night second-guessing if I set the alarm for the right time, or even set it at all. I would like to be able to glance at the iPhone X and immediately see the alarm clock icon reassure me, before drifting back to sleep.

This is how it was pre-iPhone X and still is on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Yet for some reason, Apple has decided to bury this information. You can still see it — and your remaining battery percentage — but you have to pull down the Control Center first.

I don’t want to mess with my phone at 4am. I don’t want to swipe a screen or use more brain cells than I have to. In short, I don’t want to do anything that could wake me up and make falling back asleep harder than it needs to be.

I use maps navigation quite a lot. When you pop out of either Google Maps or Apple Maps to do something else, the iPhone X helpfully puts a tiny blue Tic Tac around the clock, turning it into a nifty little button you can tap to pop back into the map again.

This is great, but Apple stops short. See, you can toggle from any app back into the map, but you can’t toggle from the map back to what you were doing before. So if you’re reading an article, you can pop into the map to check on the directions (using the shortcut) but won’t be able to return to the story (no shortcut).

When you get used to pressing that shortcut button a couple dozen times during a long trip, you’ll be cursing Apple that it only goes one way. Hopefully a future version of the software will make toggling a two-way street.

By the way, the shortcut also works with the phone app (the button turns green), voice memos (red) and some third-party apps.

Is the alarm on or what?

I’m an inveterate nervous-alarm-setter, even on weekends. I just can’t relax unless I know I won’t oversleep (yes, I have problems).

That doesn’t stop me from waking up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night second-guessing if I set the alarm for the right time, or even set it at all. I would like to be able to glance at the iPhone X and immediately see the alarm clock icon reassure me, before drifting back to sleep.

This is how it was pre-iPhone X and still is on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Yet for some reason, Apple has decided to bury this information. You can still see it — and your remaining battery percentage — but you have to pull down the Control Center first.

I don’t want to mess with my phone at 4am. I don’t want to swipe a screen or use more brain cells than I have to. In short, I don’t want to do anything that could wake me up and make falling back asleep harder than it needs to be.

Apple’s also changed the buttons you press to take a screenshot and power down the phone. If you mess this up, you might find yourself accidentally calling 911.

You have to know which side of the Notch to swipe for the quick-controls in Control Center (the right side) and which to swipe for your notifications (the left). And now, you double-press the lock button to finish installing an app and hold it down to fire up Siri.

While these changes are absolutely learnable, and even become second-nature over time, the iPhone X’s navigability is a far cry from the logical layout that made the iPhone stand out from every other phone of its day.

It’s not that I wish the iPhone X reverted to the stripped-down style of the original iPhone. It’s that Apple, in paving the way with some new technologies, had the opportunity to rethink how we use a phone, and wound up making it more complicated to use — not less.

 

SOURCE: cnet.com