Reading 12 – Self Driving Cars

The motivation behind self-driving cars is two-fold. The first is convenience. It is a lot more convenient to lay back and relax behind the wheel than driving yourself. Especially under a lot of traffic, driving can be stressful. With fully functional automated cars, one can potentially even be productive while waiting in traffic or relax and watch a movie. The second motivation is safety. A great deal of traffic accidents are caused by human error. If all humans are removed from driving, traffic accidents should significantly decrease.

The problem with self-driving cars is that they are required to make ethical decisions. The biggest one that comes up is the trolley problem, with the added element of the driver and passengers in the car. What should a self-driving do in a situation in which it has to choose whether to save the driver and passenger’s life versus saving the life of pedestrians. The opinion is very clear, but unhelpful. A group of researchers found that while most people agree that a utilitarian model where self-driving cars prioritize the life of pedestrians is the most moral one, most people would be reluctant to drive in a car with such a model. The effect of this is that this goes against the utilitarian approach itself, because by delaying the adoption of self-driving cars, we are preventing the decrease in road fatalities expected from their full deployment.

If we take this into account, it seems like the most utilitarian answer would actually be to create an AI the prioritizes the lives of the driver and passengers. The difficulty lies in the fact that people might be unwilling to accept this. There’s this pressing fear of knowing a huge chunk of metal may just run over you without a second thought. Perhaps the solution would be to convince people that even with an AI prioritizing the lives of passengers in the car, the likelihood of you being killed in a car related accident still decreases with the adoption of AI technology.

Another difficult part is the role of the government in all of this. As you can see, my opinion is that its best if the car chooses to protect drivers and passengers. Given that, I believe the role of the government would be to ease the adoption of this model. AI and cars deal best with clear cut roles. A benefit would be a reeducation of both drivers and pedestrians on how to best protect yourself from the adoption of self-driving cars. For example, a greater emphasis should be made in letting people know that they shouldn’t jaywalk. An AI car may not react well to a pedestrian coming out of nowhere. Another change should be a greater emphasis on using turn signals whenever possible: when entering a road, when switching lanes, etc. The good part of this is that as self-driving cars become more prevalent, the cars will adopt all these clear-cut rules themselves and better interact with other self-driving vehicles.

Personally, when I have the money to do so, I will invest on a self-driving car. I hate driving. It makes me anxious and nervous. Hopefully when the time comes, the technology will be more mature and more widely adopted.