Unfortunately, when dealing in autonomous technology, ethics questions will always be raised. While these cars will be programmed to understand intricate maneuvers and driving situations, will they be self-aware? Often when driving crazy situations occur that defy the posted rules. Jaywalking, broken down vehicles, children kicking a ball into the road, etc. happen every day. Now, the vast majority of these occurrences can be handled with relative ease, but there are times when the impossible situation occurs. Take for instance, the trolley problem (though in this example we will substitute an autonomous car for the trolley).
There is an autonomous vehicle driving on a one lane road that is coming up on a fork. Ahead, there are five people on the main road unable to move. The vehicle is headed straight for them with no ability to stop as there are cars immediately behind it. You, in the passenger seat look to the fork and see one person unable to move. There are two options for the car to decide between:
1. Do nothing, and kill the five people on the main road.
2. Take the fork, diverting the car onto the side road where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice?
While ethical dilemma’s such as these are seldom realistic (too many stipulations on what decisions and course of actions are available), watered down versions of these happen on a regular basis. When giving up controls to a machine, these types situations need to be handled appropriately, whether that means programming in a moral conscience or somehow thinking up every possible situation that could occur while driving.
While it is not necessarily fair to hold these driverless cars to such a high standard, human drivers botch these situations every day, it is necessary to ensure these cars are the safest operating vehicles on the road. To expand, if a self driving car went around a blind corner and a child was in the road with no ability for the car to stop, would it be able to sacrifice itself to save the child? If it doesn’t and kills the child, that mother and passenger will always be left with the question, had a human been driving would the child be alive?
It leads into the next segment dealing with legal matters and fault, but driverless cars, while amazing technology, needs to instill in the public confidence in its abilities to make decisions no matter the situation.
A graduate of George Washington University of National Law Center, Thomas J. Curcio is an author, speaker, and personal injury attorney. He has been named one of DC Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation and co-author of “Evidence for the Trial Lawyer." His experience includes the successful representation of injured passengers of the 2009 WMATA (DC Metro) Fort Trotten train crash.