Philosophers Use Ethical Algorithms to Help Increase Autonomous Vehicle Safety
While engineers are tweaking the safety technology of autonomous vehicles (AVs), philosophers are also contributing their expertise to improve the safety of these inventions.
Philosophers view AVs as the incarnation of a moral conundrum known as the Trolley Problem, as Olivia Goldhill, contributor with Quartz, explained the scenario. “A trolley is going down the tracks towards five people. You can pull a lever to redirect the trolley, but there is one person stuck on the only alternative track. The scenario exposes the moral tension between actively doing versus allowing harm: Is it morally acceptable to kill one to save five, or should you allow five to die rather than actively hurt one?”
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As AVs become 100% driverless and pass through the required legislation needed to be on the roads, they will need to make decisions about how to respond in situations like the above. A team of philosophers led by Nicholas Evans, philosophy professor at Mass Lowell, is currently building algorithms that will help resolve this issue. The National Science Foundation has generously contributed a grant totaling $556k to aid their efforts.
The team is working on transferring ethical theories into a language that computers can read. They’re currently testing a variety of ethical theories and their related algorithms. For example, an algorithm based on utilitarian philosophy would assign the same value to passengers inside the vehicle as to pedestrians outside of it.
The goal is to make self-driving cars more ethical, despite the limitations imposed by their AI nature. After all, no matter how smart vehicles become, they’re still objects that do not have the level of consciousness that a human has.
Nonetheless, it will be fascinating what Evans and his team are able to achieve with their algorithm project.
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News Source: Quartz