November 1, 2015

Will a computer decide whether you die in a driverless car?

CBC, Canada - Amid all the buzz about vehicles that drive themselves, there are serious ethical questions facing regulators, manufacturers and the people who will ride in them. If faced with an unavoidable fatal crash, would the car be programmed to save its occupants at all costs or would it sacrifice its passengers for the greater good of saving a group of pedestrians?

"There's this trade-off between the interests of the driver, or rather the passenger who buys the car, and the level of public acceptance versus public outrage," says Azim Shariff of the Culture and Morality Lab at the University of Oregon. Along with researchers from France and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shariff set out to test public attitudes on the cold, hard decisions computer programs will have to make when lives are on the line. Azim Shariff of the Culture and Morality Lab at the University of Oregon

Azim Shariff, researcher at the Culture and Morality Lab at the University of Oregon, says some ethical questions should be answered before driverless cars fill the streets.


Anonymous said...

This is the exact thing that makes me so wary of self driving cars. There are simply times when human intelligence and ethics need to come into play when driving a car. I live in a state that recently gave pedestrians right of way at all unlighted intersections, but hasn't educated the public on how the law works. The law says that pedestrians need to stop and show clear intent that they plan to cross the street, and give a chance for cars to stop, before stepping onto the street. In reality too many pedestrians/joggers think it means they can walk or run out into traffic, often from blind spots, without looking to see if any traffic is on the way. I've had enough near misses, where a jogger suddenly appears from the far side of a parked SUV, less than 15 feet in front of me in my lane of traffic, while I am driving in a 25 mph zone, at the speed limit or less. So far I've been able to avoid hitting the careless jogger. My brakes have been taking a beating since this law came into effect, because pedestrians/joggers don't understand how it works.

I drive carefully to be sure I don't kill some inattentive jogger. Even if I killed the jogger when I'm in control of the car, I would feel less guilt, then if the car was driving, and it kills the jogger, and I have been robbed of the decision on how to handle the situation. I do not trust a self driving car to make life and death decisions for me.

vemene said...

The short answer: No.

The explanation: The fundamental design principles for self-driving cars are 1) occupant safety, and 2) conformity to traffic laws.

All these bullshit scenarios about self-driving cars careening over cliffs to avoid sudden obstacles are irrelevant to modern roads with proper engineering and traffic laws. These ethical trade-offs were worked out the Nth time some pedestrian stepped in front of a horse-drawn wagon inside a city limits somewhere. That is how speed limits are set: engineers evaluate visibility, stopping distance, and maneuvering room, and set speed limits, place guardrails, add signage, et cetera accordingly. Human drivers usually disregard all this and zip along as fast as they please killing themselves and innocent other people regularly; no self-driving car will be allowed on the road if it dare do the same thing.

I would feel much safer knowing that every car on the road was being driven by a rigorously-law-abiding computer rather than a hormone-addled and technology-distracted teenager, a screaming-child-distracted parent, or a blind-drunken jackass. If this means I have relinquish control and let my car drive itself too, then I look forward to the opportunity catch up on my reading and napping.

Furthermore, all this is moot, since it will be economically impossible to either retrofit all the existing vehicles on the road, or provide new ones to every downwardly-mobile household. I will still have to drive my own car myself and hope my eyesight and reaction time remain keen enough to dodge all the lunatics still behind the wheel twenty years from now.

The truckers union, on the other hand, had better start looking at other career options...