Companies are already testing autonomous vehicles and semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the road. The government is in the process of putting together guidelines for the new technology. What happens if a self-driving vehicle gets into a situation in which an accident is unavoidable? Can the computer “brain” make moral choices?
Programmers have to make decisions about the most ethical way to program the autonomous driving technology in order to save the most lives possible. However, at times, lives may be spared at the cost of another.
The journal, Science, conducted an interview over a six month time period. People were asked to comment on the morality of proposed situations involving autonomous vehicles and accidents. 1,928 people participated in the survey. One of the surveys found that 76% of respondents believed sacrificing one life to save ten was the moral way to go. This remained true even when asked to consider the single death as a family member.
Despite the above results, people said that they would be less likely to buy a car that was programmed in such a way. This is because regardless of their moral compass, most people have a need to protect themselves and their family.
A “social dilemma” is created when consumers believe in making something safer for all involved, but yet act with their own safety in mind, thus possibly putting others in harms way. Jean-Francois Bonnefon, co-author of the study, explained:
“You can recognize the feeling; the feeling that I want other people to do something but it would be great not to do it myself.”
The study attempts to prove the positive impacts of autonomous vehicles. Accidents will be greatly reduced. Also, there will be less pollution, less traffic, and disabled or elderly people will benefit with increased mobility. Another study author, Iyad Rahwan, said:
“Autonomous cars have the potential to revolutionize transportation, eliminate the majority of deaths on the road. That is over one million global deaths annually. But as we work on making the technology safer, we need to recognize the psychological and social challenges.”
The MIT Media Lab offers an interactive online game that shows consumers the decisions that autonomous cars will have to be programmed to make. Check it out here.
Source (ABC News)