Programming morality into driverless cars.

self-driving-carDriverless cars are reaching the consumer market.

We have all read articles and seen videos discussing the coming age of autonomous vehicles, and the promise of a dramatic decline in auto accidents-clearly good news. It is easy to marvel at the algorithms and equipment designed to allow a car to safely navigate down streets filled with obstacles; however an interesting question arises when it becomes necessary to address moral priorities in the decision making protocol.

At first glance the ethical questions in programming seems simple- “Avoid accidents.” Clearly this is a point on which we can all concur, but on further analysis it is apparent a zero accident rate is not possible. There will be times when choices will need to be made between the best interest of the car’s occupants and those of pedestrians and or passengers of other cars. Those decisions will be made based on the priorities programmed into the vehicle by the manufacture. The necessity of car makers to program moral choices into driverless cars is a reality, yet challenging as the following examples will illustrate.

Teaching Morality to Self-driving cars

Two children are playing catch, one misses a toss and the ball rolls into the street, the child runs after it placing him in the path of an oncoming car. Let’s say, there is not time to safely the stop car; so the choice becomes striking the child or steering into a parked car. While selecting the option of hitting the child will guarantee the safety of the car’s occupants, it will kill or cause great bodily harm to the child. Alternatively, turning into a post or parked auto will save the child but risk injuries to the driver or passengers in car.

You are driving when a motorcycle enters your lane creating a situation where you faced with the choice of killing the driver on the cycle or swerving you own car into a guardrail, causing damage to your auto and perhaps minor injuries to you.

Given thought, I’m sure we can all come up with similar examples; What if there are multiple passengers in your car, are young people’s lives worth more than old people? These are questions that can be perplexing , nuanced, and emotional charged. As drivers, we face these decisions in split-seconds, we react we don’t ponder; an excuse a team programming an autonomous vehicle does not have. They are forced, as are we, in the cold light of advanced planning, to wrestle with such moral choices.

With the recent death of Joshua Brown, 40, in Williston, Florida, while his car was on autopilot, the potential flaws in car’s autonomous systems are no longer theoretical. We have arrived at the point where these difficult ethical decisions must take place , As a society, we must discus how to prioritize risks and potential loss; property damage VS personal injury is perhaps the easiest, least controversial, alternately, selecting between victims is the greatest of challenges. The ethicists and lawyers will need to also prioritize between those in the Vehicle they control, VS the larger public. It is clear that when death or injuries occur, company representatives will be grilled over the choices their teams programmed into their autonomous cars.

It is clear that we live in an age where technological advancements move at a speed faster than societies ability to navigate the tricky moral ramifications. There is little denying the age of autonomous vehicles will soon be upon us. Changes in technology bring effects, some foreseeable others not. while we can’t foretell every ramification some aspects are inevitable, and therefore; demand we plan ahead. Any decline in auto accidents is welcome news, the massive job losses that will come as a direct product of self driving cars will present a great challenge. To those designing these new Vehicles and programming morality into driverless cars, will need to focus on the moral decisions your creation will follow.

By Larry Lubell

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