Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Who to kill? The dilemma of driverless cars

By AusSMC

Driverless cars hold the promise of safer transport. But how should they react when loss of life appears inevitable? Should a car swerve to miss a pedestrian on the road, even if doing so would kill the passenger?

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New US research, published in Science (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6293/1573), explores this ethical dilemma in a series of surveys, revealing that people generally want automated cars to be utilitarian (i.e. prevent the greatest loss of life) but, when pressed, admit that they would prefer to buy a driverless car that protects the driver at all costs.

The authors say regulation may provide a solution to this problem, but that their results suggest this could cause delays in the adoption of AVs and further deaths in the long run. "The lives saved by making AVs utilitarian may be outnumbered by the deaths caused by delaying the adoption of AVs altogether," said the authors.


"The study sheds some light on the state of public sentiment on this ethical issue. It shows that aligning moral AI driving algorithms with human values is a major challenge – there is no easy answer!

What I found interesting in this research is that participants were reluctant to accept government regulations of utilitarian AVs – in fact, the surveys showed that participants would be less likely to consider purchasing an AV with such regulation than without.

This to me is even a bigger challenge: (1) Deciding...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.