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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Morality in transportation

Jeffrey C. Peters
The Conversation by way of Salon
Originally posted November 19, 2016

A common fantasy for transportation enthusiasts and technology optimists is for self-driving cars and trucks to form the basis of a safe, streamlined, almost choreographed dance. In this dream, every vehicle — and cyclist and pedestrian — proceeds unimpeded on any route, as the rest of the traffic skillfully avoids collisions and even eliminates stop-and-go traffic. It’s a lot like the synchronized traffic chaos in “Rush Hour,” a short movie by Black Sheep Films.

Today, autonomous cars are becoming more common, but safety is still a question. More than 30,000 people die on U.S. roads every year — nearly 100 a day. That’s despite the best efforts of government regulators, car manufacturers and human drivers alike. Early statistics from autonomous driving suggest that widespread automation could drive the death toll down significantly.

There’s a key problem, though: Computers like rules — solid, hard-and-fast instructions to follow. How should we program them to handle difficult situations? The hypotheticals are countless: What if the car has to choose between hitting one cyclist or five pedestrians? What if the car must decide to crash into a wall and kill its occupant, or slam through a group of kindergartners? How do we decide? Who does the deciding?

The article is here.
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