Who are you gonna run over?
Eventually the phrase “Leave the driving to us.” will encompass everything that a smart car can do and I, for one, am looking forward to it. The thing is, self-driving vehicles, like any smart technology is only as “smart” as we make it. Which lends itself to some interesting moral discussion.
According to MIT, the greater autonomy given machine intelligence in these roles can result in situations where they have to make autonomous choices involving human life and limb.
This calls for not just a clearer understanding of how humans make such choices, but also a clearer understanding of how humans perceive machine intelligence making such choices.
The MoralMachine website aims to take the discussion further, by providing a platform for not only building a crowd-sourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas, but one that allows for crowd-sourcing assembly and discussion of potential scenarios of moral consequence.
Introducing a “Moral” Machine
Current research suggests that a proliferation of self-driving cars could do anything from ameliorate traffic problems to saving vast amounts of energy, and they are also forecast to be much safer, overall. Thus, smart cars are expected to be able to save lives and lessen the number of road fatalities that occur annually.
That said, posits the Washington Post, these vehicles will occasionally have to “make difficult ethical decisions in cases that involve unavoidable harm.” How they resolve those decisions, in turn, will depend on the car’s programming, whose nature, “is likely to become a matter of significant public debate as the vehicles themselves become more common.”
The moral majority
The Wall Street Journal suggests this matters not only to philosophical debates about ethics, but also when it comes to modern technological advances in a key space, autonomous vehicles, which are already being experimented with by Google and others.
These vehicles are widely expected to become vastly more prominent in transportation systems going forward, not only as personal vehicles, but also as taxis or even mass transit systems, in significant part because they will be safer.
Personally, before a driverless vehicle can distinguish between right and wrong lets make sure it can get its passenger from Point-A to Point-B without killing anyone.
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