The demand for autonomous vehicles is globally increasing. But its market penetration has to wait. There is a global disagreement concerning the correct “behaviour” of the cars, as a project supported by the MIT shows. moralmachine.mit.edu is an online platform, where people all over the world are introduced in various scenarios about Autonomous Driving (AD). For every single case, they are asked about their opinion, how the car would react correctly. The actual results present many differences among the various cultures, but also within the single societies groups exist mutually contradicting in their point of view. This resulting varience makes the manufacturers facing the problem of how the car should be programmed: uniquely for all, individually for each society and if so, what about the groups with a different ethical understanding? What has been globally similar up to a certain degree, was the opinion that the car should react utilitarian (causing the least misery in case of an accident). Hence, this is interesting as you would hardly use such a car with the knowledge it could react in a way harming your safety. In the utilitarian case, this could happen, creating a social dilemma. Adjusting the car to that broadly shared opinion, the manufacturers would run to risk of selling no car or at least not enough. Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel has published various articles about the issues caused by AD and ethics (see here). From his point of view, human road users should neither be quantified nor qualified. He also advocates that the vehicles have to be moralized towards animals like hedgehogs and toads. But in general, also the experts are at odds. So, how should the car manufacturers deal with all of these different interests and aspects? How should the society, in general, deal with ethical questions arising with the progress of technologies? Globally unique, individually for each country? The question, when autonomous cars will enter the mass market, is accordingly not depending on the progress of technologies, but rather on the ability to reduce 6 billion people to a common denominator.
Driving in cities is a very complex matter. There are several reasons for this: You have to judge hundreds of objects and events at all times. You have to communicate with people. And you should be able to change decisions spontaneously, for example because you remember that you have to buy something. That’s a bad prospect for an autonomous car. Of course it can do some tricks: It can drive very slowly. It can use virtual tracks or special lanes and signals and sounds. A bus or shuttle is able to use such tricks. But hardly a car. Autonomous individual transport in cities will only be possible if the cities are redesigned. This has been done a few decades ago. And it wasn’t a good idea at all. So don’t let autonomous cars drive in the cities, but let them drive on the highways. Should autonomous cars make moral decisions about the lives and deaths of pedestrians and cyclists? They should better not. Moral machines are a valuable innovation in certain contexts. But not in the traffic of cities. Pedestrians and cyclists rarely get onto the highway. There are many reasons why we should allow autonomous cars only there.