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The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1573-1576
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2654

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Codes of conduct in autonomous vehicles

When it becomes possible to program decision-making based on moral principles into machines, will self-interest or the public good predominate? In a series of surveys, Bonnefon et al. found that even though participants approve of autonomous vehicles that might sacrifice passengers to save others, respondents would prefer not to ride in such vehicles (see the Perspective by Greene). Respondents would also not approve regulations mandating self-sacrifice, and such regulations would make them less willing to buy an autonomous vehicle.

Science, this issue p. 1573; see also p. 1514

Abstract

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) should reduce traffic accidents, but they will sometimes have to choose between two evils, such as running over pedestrians or sacrificing themselves and their passenger to save the pedestrians. Defining the algorithms that will help AVs make these moral decisions is a formidable challenge. We found that participants in six Amazon Mechanical Turk studies approved of utilitarian AVs (that is, AVs that sacrifice their passengers for the greater good) and would like others to buy them, but they would themselves prefer to ride in AVs that protect their passengers at all costs. The study participants disapprove of enforcing utilitarian regulations for AVs and would be less willing to buy such an AV. Accordingly, regulating for utilitarian algorithms may paradoxically increase casualties by postponing the adoption of a safer technology.

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