Should driverless cars make life-or-death decisions?

An interesting article ran recently in Automotive News titled, “Should driverless cars make life-or-death decisions?” Author Keith Naughton asks some interesting questions and points out some of the difficult decisions engineers are now beginning to make. Read the short article at: .

This is not directly related to work zone ITS, but raises additional questions that most certainly are. When is it better for robotic cars to drive through a line of cones? Is it better to crash into a truck-mounted attenuator and risk injuring the operator? Or veer into a closed work zone where workers may be present?

The problem, as I understand it, is that the robots can’t go through a decision tree to decide what to do. As this video points out ( ) there just isn’t enough time. Instead, programmers must build in the ability to react. The robot in the video hasn’t been taught when to grab the bar. Rather, it is taught how to react instead.

We will soon be enjoying significantly reduced fatality rates thanks to autonomous vehicles. But robots will now be making these decisions. In the past drivers involved in crashes were often tormented second guessing their split second decisions prior to the crash. Now we can make those decisions in advance in the way we program these systems. But they won’t always be easy decisions.


3 thoughts on “Should driverless cars make life-or-death decisions?

  1. This is a very timely subject. I encourage everybody to speak their mind on the matter of where the decision making about your life will lie. This is a reality that is coming and if too few people are involved in the development of the ethical rules then nobody is going to be happy with the outcome.

    The scenarios are far more varied and common than the single driver vs the school bus and should be discussed. A few cases that I like to debate is the evacuation scenario.

    Assume your car is fully automatic (no steering wheel), you live in Miami, and a hurricane evacuation is declared. You must get out and your car will take you on the prescribed evacuation route that has just been remotely updated based upon the forecast. However, your elderly parents depend upon you and they live ten blocks in the wrong direction. Will the car allow you to change your evacuation route and by what criteria is your decision to go get your parents going to be judged?

    Assume your car is fully automatic, your child has been injured and you are rushing to the hospital. Can the car be programmed to change the rules of operation for such an emergency? How is the car going to differentiate between the urgency of a simple fracture and a bloody compound fracture. [Most parents would have difficulty striking a appropriate balance on urgency and risk.]

    You can go on and on. With the scenarios. We should all be talking about these cases.

    And everybody should go back and read Asimov.

  2. Pingback: Google Presentation at ITS California | workzoneitsblog

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