Self-Driving Cars: License to Kill

Hey guys! In this weeks post I will be talking about self driving cars. And Ethics.

As we all know, many companies have been investing substantial amounts of money into developing a self-driving car(More information of which). When we think of this research many people raise concerns about the potential threat the advancement of this technology poses for other industries, specially the public transportation one. If somebody can sleep in their own car while getting driven from NY to PA, why would they bother taking an extremely uncomfortable bus?

I can definitely see how this may become a problem for these industries; however, I want to delve into a different issue that is addressed by the MIT Technology Review. Today, we’re posed with some ethical questions regarding self-driving cars:

How should the car be programmed to act in the event of an unavoidable accident? Should it minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants, or should it protect the occupants at all costs? Should it choose between these extremes at random?

We get answer of sorts thanks to the work of Jean-Francois Bonnefon at the Toulouse School of Economics in France and a couple of pals. Their premise is that public opinion will play a strong role in how, or even whether, self-driving cars become widely accepted.

So they came up with the following dilemma and made a poll out of it:

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?

I, and not too surprisingly the majority of the people in the study,  would want self-driving vehicles to be programmed in a way that protects the greater good of the society, by minimizing the death toll. This, as we have learned in class is a Utilitarian approach. However, it poses a contradiction and a paradox: I want people to drive utilitarian cars, but I don’t want a utilitarian car myself. What about you?




10 thoughts on “Self-Driving Cars: License to Kill

  1. That’s an interesting last line about wanting others to drive utilitarian cars, but not yourself, because I feel inclined to think the same way.

    Self-driving cars also brings up the entire idea of insurance. Whose fault is it when one of them crashes? Who is the one who will be sued if someone were to die in the crash? The company? The programmers? The person inside for some reason? Its an interesting idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I first heard about the idea of self-driving cars, I was very excited. Instead of looking at long drives as an exhausting and uneventful experience, there is now an opportunity to use that time for more productive things like school work and even just entertainment. However, you do bring up a great point about insurance. Even if the cars are programmed to minimize the death toll, accidents are still inevitable to an extent. So who would be blamed for an accident? Especially if it was an accident involving two self-driving cars?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting ethical situation that you raise at the end concerning the situation where either 10 people die or you die. From a utilitarian standpoint, the costs of 10 people dying is greater than one person dying. In considering Kant’s notion of a categorical imperative, what would a world be like in which every self-driving car saved the one life of its occupant but instead took ten other lives? This perspective is unsettling and would consider the act of saving the occupant unethical. But, I wonder, is an autonomous car really susceptible to ethical considerations? I do not believe that the non-human car has any sort of morality of ethical awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Brady, thanks for comment. I think you’re pointing at an interesting topic at the end when you mention whether cars should be subjected to ethics.
      I think they should. Cars are programmed by human beings that must take into consideration ethics when designing the software. I believe the real question we should be asking ourselves is how would car companies market their self driving cars with a program that kills the driver and such situations. As well, we should be asking what is going to keep the driver from changing the programming of the car and making sure that he is the one who stays alive in all situations??


    2. Nothing is “without morality” either in its design or choices or, in this case, reactions. To have or not to have “self-driving” cars is itself a kind of moral choice. And, in a way, the programming of the car is NOT the car’s. It is ours; we program it.


  3. Something that I think matters in a situation in which a self-driving car needs to make a decision to avoid an accident is the relationship of the parties involved. For example, your car might not swerve out of the way to avoid a small animal in the road, but if it was your neighbor’s dog for example you might feel differently. If your car puts the value of your life against other considerations as Brady mentioned above, it could appear unsettling if it chooses the wrong answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think ideally, everyone would want to choose the utilitarianism approach in these circumstances, but it’d be much harder to do so if you are actually facing the situation in real life. We’ve never had self-driving cars before, so there is no way to predict how all of this is going to unfold. On the legal side of things, I think laws of some sort are going to have to be put in place to determine who would be at fault in case of any accidents that occur. It’s going to be interesting to see how it unfolds, and I’m sure ethical dilemmas will be present throughout the whole process.


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