We should spend more time thinking about how we live with self-driving cars than about who they will kill

Analysis: Questions of who among pedestrians are most dispensable aren’t ours to answer – and there are plenty of other ethical questions we haven’t yet considered, says Andrew Griffin

Monday 29 October 2018 13:03
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We could save the world with driverless tech
We could save the world with driverless tech

Yes, self-driving cars might be safer than traditional vehicles. But all cars are likely to end up causing death, and now we know which section of the population people believe is most dispensable in the event that autonomous vehicles should kill.

New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examines the ethics of autonomous vehicles, and reports the result of a survey of more than 2 million people that explored how key ethical questions should be answered. A vast online survey asking recipients what sort of people they think their robot cars should kill might sound like dystopia – but what’s just as worrying is that none of it might matter at all.

The new paper reveals all sorts of anxious questions about the future of driverless vehicles. Chief among them considers what should happen in situations when a vehicle cannot avoid causing a fatality but will have to make the choice about who the victim or victims will be. Researchers found a wide variety of thoughts on the subject, but that generally people wanted to save humans over animals, more people over fewer, and that older people should be killed to save younger ones.

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