Self-driving cars were not originally developed because people were lazy and didn’t want to drive themselves, although I can’t say I particularly enjoy driving, so I wouldn’t mind not having to drive myself places while having the convenience of travelling in a car. On a serious note, self-driving cars are often viewed as a good thing because ideally if done properly, they would be safer than human-operated cars. Some people are just bad drivers while others get tired on long distance trips and have to make many stops to make sure they are alert enough to drive safely. Computers, in theory, don’t get tired and are more methodical and precise than humans. Since driving consists of making decisions based on an established set of rules, it seems like a problem that is suited to computers. Some are less optimistic and enthusiastic, however, because it won’t be easy to program a car to perfectly navigate the roads and handle every possible situation that may arise. Some skeptics think that autonomous vehicles are more dangerous because of the grave consequences of an improperly programmed systems. It’s a difficult ethical consideration to make as to whether they are worth developing because it’s inevitable that people will be harmed and die in the process. I think it’s too early to say whether they will make our roads safer.
Decisions have to be made regarding how to deal with situations where loss of life is unavoidable, but I’m not sure what the ethically correct decision biases would be. I think it’s important to keep mechanical features that would allow humans to manually regain control in the event that something goes wrong or human instinct is better (safer) than the computer system. There should always be a way to “pull the plug” on a system. If you don’t completely hand over control to the vehicle, however, then the human “driver” could potentially be held liable when an accident occurs. If there is no way for a human to take control of the vehicle, then the company that made the vehicle should be held liable. I don’t know how realistic this is though because bearing 100% of the blame would be a huge risk and make companies less likely to sell the product and assume the liability. Just as it’s hard to write one law that applies to every possible scenario, liability should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
While the dangers of self-driving cars are important to consider, there are also benefits that could come from autonomous vehicles. With the rise of Uber and Lyft came an increase in autonomy for people because they could get anywhere they needed to go without owning or having access to a car. This made riders more independent and it provided many average people a way of making extra money. Autonomous vehicles could increase independence by allowing those without the ability to drive to still be able to get around in areas with poor public transportation. The caveat is that all those jobs created by ridesharing services would start to fade away. The articles for this week mention that the economy will shift and balance itself by creating jobs in other areas that have to do with creating and maintaining the vehicles as it has in the past with other technological advancements. I can see how that would work, but I’m concerned that the jobs provided will be of a different skill level, and it will be difficult for those who lose their jobs as drivers to adjust and find new work. The idealist in me wants to believe that it would be better for everyone to get more education and work hard to adjust, but realistically, it’s hard to see that happening, and the Catholic Social Teaching of The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers calls us to help those whose jobs are displaced to find new work or gain the new skills needed to survive in the new economic environment. I don’t know what the government’s role would be (or even if they should be involved) in aiding in the economic side of things, but I do think that they should regulate the safety of self-driving cars in terms of standards for production, testing, and safety features.
Right now, I don’t think I would want a self-driving car, but I’m not sure if that would change in the future. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around fully autonomous vehicles, but we’re already on the way with the lane detection features, self-parking, and similar features. The transition towards fully autonomous vehicles will be a gradual one, which will help everyone adjust to it and accept it. If we can create proper self-driving cars, then that would be great, and I wouldn’t have to worry about driving myself. In the meantime, I think I should try to drive more and get more practice before I move out on my own and am responsible for finding my own transportation.