Originally published August 11, 2016
Anyone who’s followed the debates surrounding autonomous vehicles knows that moral quandaries inevitably arise. As Jesse Kirkpatrick has written in Slate, those questions most often come down to how the vehicles should perform when they’re about to crash. What do they do if they have to choose between killing a passenger and harming a pedestrian? How should they behave if they have to decide between slamming into a child or running over an elderly man?
It’s hard to figure out how a car should make such decisions in part because it’s difficult to get humans to agree on how we should make them. By way of evidence, look to Moral Machine, a website created by a group of researchers at the MIT Media Lab. As the Verge’s Russell Brandon notes, the site effectively gameifies the classic trolley problem, folding in a variety of complicated variations along the way. You’ll have to decide whether a vehicle should choose its passengers or people in an intersection. Others will present two differently composed groups of pedestrians—say, a handful of female doctors or a collection of besuited men—and ask which an empty car should slam into. Further complications—including the presence of animals and details about whether the pedestrians have the right of way—sometimes further muddle the question.