Morality and Ethics Now Imbibed in Self-driving Cars

Morality and Ethics Now Imbibed in Self-driving Cars

In July 2017, a group of authors at Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, researched that self-driving cars could be taught to make moral and ethical decisions like humans do. This decision-making process could be actualized by creating algorithms to comprehend human ethics.

Volunteers were asked to drive a car on a foggy day when they faced several obstacles on their way, including inanimate objects, animals, and humans. The situation required them to make quick decisions on which obstacles to spare and which not to. The decisions made by these drivers were recorded and conceptualized by statistical models which explained human behavior in those circumstances. Scientists prepared a ‘value-of-life-based model’, comprising of all the moral and ethical decisions we make. This was a simple algorithm that could make human-like judgements to determine the value of life on the road, when faced with obstacles. Moral decisions were first believed impossible to model, possessing circumstantial dependence which, however, has now been proved false. The creation of this algorithm has proved that morality can be theorized, thus benefiting self-driving cars on busy roads.

The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has defined 20 ethical principles related to self-driving vehicles. Some of these principles include, increased level of risk by highly involved obstacles, loss of one life over the loss of many, and sparing animate over inanimate objects.

Most other moral decisions were held questionable, owing to their limited scope of interpretation and variation in human responses.

“Now that we know how to implement human ethical decisions into machines we, as a society, are still left with a double dilemma,” said Professor Peter König, a senior author of the paper. “Firstly, we have to decide whether moral values should be included in guidelines for machine behavior and secondly, if they are, should machines act just like humans”

The researchers say that self-driving cars are just the beginning of the age of autonomous machines, such as robots working in hospitals and other artificial intelligence systems. They, however, warn us of the need for clear rules, if not, machines would start making decisions independent of us.

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