What's up these days with Anthony Levandowski, the controversial, not to say notorious, former Google engineer and DARPA Challenge veteran, whose self-driving truck startup, Otto, was acquired by Uber in 2016? Well, he's back in the limelight, the focus of a 10,000-word New Yorker magazine article last week: "Did Uber Steal Google's Intellectual Property?"
Indeed, it's a long story. After the Silicon Valley superstar departed Google for Uber in January 2016, Waymo, Google's autonomous vehicle unit, accused him of stealing more than 14,000 files, including hardware schematics. According to Google, a month before Levandowski resigned he plugged his work-issued laptop into a company server and downloaded the files.
In February of this year, Uber agreed to settle the trade secrets theft lawsuit brought by Google. Levandowski was fired by Uber in May 2017 and has kept a low profile since then.
The article portrays him in unflattering terms. At Google, The New Yorker said, his "leadership style became increasingly divisive. He was adept at solving problems and at rallying workers, but he was brusque and obsessive, prone to belittle teammates who disagreed with him."
The 6-foot-7 Berkeley grad, now 38, is said to have craved fabulous wealth. One former Google co-worker told the magazine: "We were once driving to a meeting together, and we were talking about how much we wanted to earn from [Google's self-driving project]. I told him I wanted to make a hundred million dollars, which seemed like a totally inconceivable figure to me. And — I remember this very clearly — Anthony looked over, with this pitying expression, and said I was thinking way too small. He said he expected to make a billion dollars, at least."
Despite his travails, The New Yorker concluded, "it's hard to feel much sympathy for him" citing a willingness to "abandon his teammates and threaten defection, often while working on an angle to enrich himself."
It's a reputation Levandowski is troubled by. "I reject the notion that I did something unethical," he told the magazine. "I'm not a thief, and I'm not dishonest."
Still, The New Yorker writes that Levandowski is sometimes shunned at the bus stop when dropping off his kids and tires of being photographed while walking through airports.
He no longer owns the technology he brought to Google and Uber, but still has lots of new ideas. The magazine reported that an investment fund recently started due diligence on his ideas for a new self-driving-truck company.
Levandowski is clearly not fixated on the past. Sounding a bit like Henry Ford, he told the magazine after the civil trial was settled: "The only thing that matters is the future. I don't even know why we study history. It's entertaining, I guess — the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Industrial Revolution, and stuff like that. But what already happened doesn't really matter. You don't need to know that history to build on what they made. In technology, all that matters is tomorrow."