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The Uptake | Dangerous Driving

Written by The Uptake Published on   2 mins read

Examining the ethical issues behind building self-driving cars.

Let’s say you’re one of three passengers riding in a robotaxi, a car that drives itself. Your vehicle is cruising down the city streets, following a route to your destination that an algorithm deemed to be the most efficient.

As the car approaches a crosswalk, an emergency signal on the dashboard lights up—there’s a brake failure and your car can’t slow down. Three people are crossing the street; they have a green signal. The car will either keep going straight and hit them, likely killing them, or steer into a concrete barricade, likely killing all of its passengers, including you.

If there are no alternatives, which is the right choice?

Would it make a difference if some of the people in this scenario were younger or older?

Would it matter if the people in the crosswalk were homeless?

Would it matter if some people in this scenario had a terminal illness?

Are you comfortable with letting a piece of software make this decision?

Those questions are no longer abstract thought experiments. Autonomous vehicles are being tested on some countries’ open roads. Some of KrASIA’s team members took rides in one in Beijing. And many consumer vehicles now offer assisted driving that is approaching self-driving, even though they still require human supervision.

Sarah explored some of the dilemmas and ethical complexities behind the development of autonomous vehicles. Spoiler: There’s no resolution that makes everyone happy. You can read her article here.

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