The Tradeoffs of Imbuing Self-Driving Cars With Human Morality



The Tradeoffs of Imbuing Self-Driving Cars With Human Morality

KENNESAW, Ga. (Aug 25, 2016) — Humans have a sketchy history with moral decision making. In an election year, one could make the argument that morals are simply something we read about in children's books. While we might be questioning ours on a daily basis, self-driving cars pose another wrinkle to the twisting evolution of human morality—automobile morality. Self-driving cars are being taught to think, to react, but are they being taught the difference between a logical decision and a moral one?

I have always maintained that there are four key areas to the act of driving: technical skills, variable analysis, decision morality and pure instinct. Self-driving cars can easily cover the first two and instinct can be fettered out through processors that work faster than our pithy brains. So that leaves decision morality. Let me give you a few examples: squirrel or accident; edging into pedestrians (without hitting them) at a NYC crosswalk; passing a slowly moving semi-truck on a lonely country road with low visibility; getting stuck behind the mailman and so on....

All this hand-wringing about morality in self-driving cars is soon going to be a moot point. We don't need them to pass the Turing Test to get us to point A from point B. We just need them to follow the rules that are programmed into them. We just need to accept that we'll all be not driving our cars very soon. 

"I think the discussion about instinct and morality is partially driven by the visceral reaction that humans may not be driving their cars in the future," Dr. Kevin McFall, Assistant Professor in the Mechatronics Engineering Department at Kennesaw State University told Motherboard. "I imagine similar concerns surfaced when the horse was replaced with automobiles. Certainly something was lost back then without the bond to a living vehicle. But looking back I don't think anyone would second-guess that transition. To this day we still ride horses for entertainment. Perhaps some day will only drive cars for entertainment as well."

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