walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Articles about ethics and self-driving cars

I can really tell I'm feeling disinhibited, because I have been carefully avoiding blogging about this for days, over a week probably, and right now, it seems brilliant to blog about this.

Expect more links, but here is one to get you started. A really horrible man!


Once you burrow past the Oh Woe Is Me I Never Learned (would he say learnt?) to Drive a Car, and the masculinity crisis (dude has some real gender issues, and not in a good way), we are rewarded with this gem, producible only by a non-driver:

"What to do when faced with a choice between, say, mowing down a couple of bystanders and ploughing into a school bus packed with children? We compute these ethical costs and choices in an eye blink, and not just the choices but the moral reasoning behind them would have to be programmed into the self-driving car. And should there be a different module that switches on if the bus is packed not with children but with, say, ailing nonagenarians from a nearby hospice? And there are even simpler but still real ethical dilemmas that human drivers understand - say, that a speed limit of 50mph (80 km/h) on a fine day is really 60mph (96k m/h), while on a wet and foggy day, really 45mph (72 km/h). How do we programme this kind of flexibility into a machine?"

First off, eye blink is hopelessly optimistic! As framed, I cannot choose between mowing down bystanders vs the school bus, whether occupied or unoccupied, never mind the ages of the occupants who I doubt I would ever notice anyway at least not in time to differentiate. The correct choice -- as is the case in all these ridiculous ethics of self-driving cars articles I have seen so far (the count is 2, I'll dig up the other link if I feel energetic, which, post Duvel, seems unlikely) -- is outside the provided frame.

YOU SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING SO FAST YOU ARE PRESENTED WITH THIS CHOICE. Slow down. Separate hazards. And if you see people in the way, slam on your brakes. As the owner and/or operator of a vehicle, you are responsible for making sure that you can STOP IN TIME, so don't over drive your ability to see safely down the road and anticipate dangers.

It's like this guy doesn't know how to drive. Oh, wait. He doesn't.

Philosophy and ethics are among the most rewarding topics to delve into, but not with fools like this.

ETA: Also, I wonder about an ethicist prepared to assert that the real speed limit is higher than the posted speed limit. Clearly, no respecter of law and order. Do I speed? Sure! (I am pretty sure I posted my most recent warning on FB recently.) But I also recognize that it isn't good behavior, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to make the same decision nor would I justify my own behavior in any way. And I really prefer to speed when the road is empty and dry, on a sunny day.

As for programming the machine correctly, it seems that this is really no problem. Just have the car avoid ever exceeding the posted speed limit (that seems simple, and would encourage a better driving culture -- speed kills). The fog is a little bit more of a problem, because with the right kinds of sensors, it need have no real impact on the self-driving car (instrument driving!), beyond not rear-ending or causing hazardous conditions for other cars on the road not so equipped. But cars _already_ have systems in place to avoid rear ending other cars (collision avoidance systems), so I doubt it will be that much of a challenge.

The ethical implications of programming a self-driving car to violate posted laws seem pretty straight forward to me. I'm surprised this was such a difficult nut to crack. For the non-driver.

In the end, the author proves to be a comedian, interested primarily in tooting his own horn and justifying that least appreciated activity, backseat driving.

"Yet the one thing that all philosophers and engineers are agreed on, is that no one is yet nearly as good, as flexible, as vigilant - not to mention as perpetually self-justifying - at these things as people are. We are our own best ethical engines. And who more expert than those of us, that small persecuted class, the non-drivers, who have been watching the road without the distraction of actual driving for years?"

So, it is def not true that engineers agree with that statement. But for sure, no one is going to pay this guy -- or anyone else -- to tell them (or their cars) how to drive.

Here's the other article I saw (prolly over T-weekend) on the topic of ethics and self-driving cars. Once again, bad frame!


"A large truck speeding in the opposite direction suddenly veers into your lane.

Jerk the wheel left and smash into a bicyclist?

Swerve right toward a family on foot?

Slam the brakes and brace for head-on impact?"

Did anyone visualize this? If a large truck speeding in the opposite direction just veered into your lane, are they avoiding the bicyclist to your left? Did you not notice any of this clusterfuck several car lengths behind? Shouldn't you have at least seen the family and the cyclist and slowed down given the presence of oncoming traffic? Did someone just _teleport_ into this, or were you busy using Siri?

I have no idea. But I'm pretty sure that whatever you decide, when you are busy explaining it in court later, there are going to be a lot of questions about your decisions well in advance of the truck switching lanes. If you were driving safely for this situation -- 25 mph or less given the amount of traffic, the combination of hazards that involved slow moving pedestrians and a bicyclist -- the option I'd go for isn't even listed, which is slamming the brakes and getting into reverse in a big fat fucking hurry. Also, it sure seems like you ought to be able to get off the road before or after the family -- I mean, it's not like it's the Duggars all strung out along the side of the road for a quarter mile. Is it?

It only gets better tho!

"Especially when in-car sensors become so acute they can, for example, differentiate between a motorcyclist wearing a helmet and a companion riding without one. If a collision is inevitable, should the car hit the person with a helmet because the injury risk might be less? But that would penalize the person who took extra precautions."

In a universe in which you can aim for either the helmet wearing motorcyclist or the companion without one, WHY ARE YOU AIMING FOR A MOTORCYCLIST! Slow down and let the ride pass you by. It ain't no big thing and it will be quieter when they have gone down the road a piece.

Finally, this:

"And what about government regulators ? how will they react to crashes, especially those that are particularly gruesome or the result of a decision that a person would be unlikely to make?"

I'm assuming a human, and not a computer, wrote the article (perhaps an unjustified assumption!). And if the human came up with these ludicrous scenarios, I seriously doubt a self-driving car is going to come up with an on-the-spot decision that is significantly unlike anything any human has come up with before. There are way, way, way too many altered drivers out there.
Tags: our future economy today
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