Anyone who drives knows there’s more to the task than just obeying the law. There can be situations in which two choices may present themselves, both of which may violate the law. But a decision has to be made. Hopefully, the person behind the wheel has enough of a foundation in ethics to make a well-reasoned snap judgment between the two evils.
Human beings make such decisions nearly every day. When they result in car accidents, victims in Connecticut who have suffered as a result may call upon the courts to hold the responsible party or parties accountable. Seeking compensation and recovery for pain and suffering is a victim’s right.
But as we noted in a post back in May, the dawn of self-driving cars raises questions about liability. From a business perspective, insurance companies seem to be leaning toward simply shifting the issue from human liability to products liability. But now some in the autonomous car arena are questioning if that’s enough. What needs to happen to make these vehicles ethically responsible? Can it be done?
Take for example the following hypothetical situation. Your autonomous car approaches a road crew doing maintenance in the middle of its lane. To avoid colliding with workers and equipment, it needs to cross the double yellow line. What will happen?
In one such test by some Stanford researchers, a vehicle on a closed track, veered at the last moment. No collision. But it was a very well controlled situation. The choice was between breaking two laws and the resolution to violate the yellow line law seems logical.
But what if a driverless car were confronted with an unavoidable crash in which victims are going to be either a group of pedestrians or the car’s occupants. Who should win in that programming scenario?
The professor leading the group uses these situations to emphasize his view that a lot of programming nuances still need to be resolved before driverless cars can be given free rein.
Answers to such questions are not available right now. And as long as they are unresolved, we have to deal with the conditions of the road as they are — with all the issues that go along with being only human.