Will autonomous cars be able to make moral choices? image

Driverless cars are the subject of any automotive meting today, and the hype surrounding them could actually be higher than the one surrounding a related subject – real life artificial intelligence.

The main reason behind the level of chatter surrounding the upcoming self-driving automotive segment might be simple to explain – unlike artificial intelligence, these cars actually already exist and can be touched and seen, albeit in prototype form. Additionally, numerous companies – from giants in technology such as Google to almost all major global automakers – have already made numerous market commitments to bring them to life. The latter are already focused on delivering more semi-autonomous driving content with each passing generation of their cars. But even among these promoters there are skeptics. For example, a top executive of BMW Ag, the largest luxury automaker in the world. “The technology will be held back by the ultimate moral question on who’s responsible,” comments Ian Robertson, the global sales chief of the automaker. “An algorithm will make a decision which might not be acceptable from a cultural or societal point of view,” he explained further.

And dealing with moral choices and the associated responsibilities and consequences is not an easy task – it’s not as simple as modifying existing legislation or insurance rules. Just think of Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics and all the ways people managed to circumvent them. One solution could be to have the human inside always accountable – he would need to be behind the wheel and able to take over at any moment. But that could mean goodbye to sleeping in the moving car or moving in the back seat.