Autonomous vehicles are being built and tested on the roads by companies like Google, Apple, and Uber. These vehicles can drive themselves, take cues from maps, and basically replace human drivers. These social robots have a lot of power in our lives and so it is reasonable to ask, should autonomous vehicles get to decide who lives and who dies in the event of an autonomous vehicle accident?
The ethics of this question has been brought to light recently by people who are building these vehicles as well as the general public. These robots literally have your live in their proverbial hands when you ride in the self-driving vehicles. They have to make hundreds of split second decisions every time they are on the road. One of these decisions includes whether you live or die in the event of an auto accident.
Take this scenario, a bus full of children cross the path of the your autonomous vehicle and it has to make the split second decision on whether to hit the bus or the brick wall on either side of you. Which one would it choose? your life or the life of many children? Ethically should your car be on your side and save your life, or save the life of the masses? Ford, GM, Audi, Toyota, and Renault have enlisted Stanford University’s Center For Automotive Research, which is programming cars to make ethical decisions and see what happens for help.
It is said that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by autonomous vehicles making decisions and avoiding collisions using split second decisions and anticipation, but what will they do when they can’t avoid being rear ended? Will they swerve onto a crowded sidewalk with pedestrians? Or will they stay put, putting the driver in dire danger?
Some believe that the car should save the greater good and avoid mass casualties and that this is the ethical thing to do. Others believe that the car they purchased should protect its occupants lives. Some still believe that only humans should be able to make these decisions at that autonomous vehicles should not even be in available. It will take time to determine what the correct course of action should be when it comes to social robot ethics.