24 Oct 2015

Self-Driving Cars Will Have Ethics Programmed In

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Self-driving cars! What could be better? Instead of hundreds of millions of individuals making individual decisions moment by moment, the experts managing the administrative state could decide what lane you’re in, how fast you travel, and –in extremis– whether you live or die. The fear is that unenlightened bitter clingers might object.

Technology Review:

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car. One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do?

One way to approach this kind of problem is to act in a way that minimizes the loss of life. By this way of thinking, killing one person is better than killing 10.

But that approach may have other consequences. If fewer people buy self-driving cars because they are programmed to sacrifice their owners, then more people are likely to die because ordinary cars are involved in so many more accidents. The result is a Catch-22 situation.

Read the whole thing.

2 Feedbacks on "Self-Driving Cars Will Have Ethics Programmed In"


One of my more Facebook friends posted this. A sort of QED of the superiority of utilitarianism. Bah!

So, let’s say, your self driving car with this program is tooling along and there happens to be a group of ISIS fighters jaywalking, and the only option to avoid the “many” is to plow into the SEAL poised to take them out. This “utilitarianism” focused program will choose that option. It’s an extreme example, but it points out the flaw in the idea that killing one person is preferable to killing many…


This seems to be at odds with laws or rules of agency. If I buy a car, the seller is obligated to sell me a car that is safe for me. The people in the crowd did not purchase the car, and the selling agent or manufacturer has no obligation for their safety over mine. The seller or manufacturer is obligated not to make or sell a defective product that creates undo risk to any party, but the customer must always be their primary concern.

Perhaps this is why self-driving cars may be fundamentally flawed and unworkable for society.


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