As the state of California inches closer and closer to the reality of self-driving cars being used by ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber, there still remains plenty of public concern as to how legitimately safe these vehicles are. Uber briefly suspended testing after a pedestrian was killed by one of the company’s self-driving cars, and that vehicle even had a safety driver behind the wheel. It’s a controversy that doesn’t seem to go away anytime soon.
So that’s why—when ABC News sent out a push notification on Wednesday to an article asking the question of whether or not people were okay with a self-driving car making the decision of who lived or died in such an event—people were shook.
It’s too early for this pic.twitter.com/crs12Mneco— Alex Bruce-Smith (@alexbrucesmith) July 4, 2018
The argument essentially boils down to the “trolley problem,” an ethical thought experiment that asks the question of whether or not an individual would pull a lever to prevent a runaway trolley from striking five people in its path—with the knowledge that re-diverting the trolley would cause it to hit a single person lying on the side track.
This is in no way the first time the trolley problem has popped up in the conversation of self-driving cars. However, it’s a conundrum that keeps resurfacing as people aren’t sure how they feel about artificial intelligence making life and death decisions. Even as robotics experts are employing philosophers to build ethical algorithms into self-driving cars, the issue remains murky at best.
And as you can see from some of the other tweet reactions to the story, many people are still pretty skeptical about the whole thing.
I’m glad you changed the headline on the website, this was a bit dramatic (though not wrong). Interesting piece though, how can we teach machines to solve the Trolley Problem when we as humans struggle with it? pic.twitter.com/4wCyKT7Ng6— Lachlan Widt (@LockyWidt) July 4, 2018
Everyone who received this push alert now has a philosophy degree https://t.co/xIoRBuMDfW— Alexandra (@tinycliffe) July 4, 2018
this is trolley dilemma 2k18 disruption shit— emma elsworthy (@emmaels) July 5, 2018
Voight-Kampff tests are getting weirder. https://t.co/bXwVhsBdcy— Charles Miller (@carlfish) July 5, 2018
Wasn't this addressed in I, Robot? https://t.co/bL0yYqZBvi— Nick Montgomery (@Merc_Media) July 4, 2018
Whether we like the technology or not, the day of completely driverless cars is certainly coming, and it’s going to be here sooner than we think. It’s probably best to accept our fate and welcome our new self-driving overlords now.