The widespread use of self-driving cars promises to bring substantial benefits to transportation efficiency, public safety and personal well-being. Car manufacturers are working to overcome the remaining technical challenges that stand in the way of this future. Recent research conducted and lead by Azim Shariff, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine, shows that there is also an important ethical dilemma that must be solved before people will be comfortable trusting their lives to these cars.
Shariff echoes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it was noted autonomous cars might find themselves in circumstances in which the car must choose between risks to its passengers and risks to a potentially greater number of pedestrians.
Imagine a situation in which the car must either run off the road or plow through a large crowd of people: Whose risk should the car’s algorithm aim to minimize?