Responses vary around the world when you ask the public who an out-of-control self-driving car should hit
Wed 24 Oct 2018
Pedestrians cross the road as a nuTonomy self-driving taxi undergoes its public trial in Singapore. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters
Moral responses to unavoidable damage vary greatly around the world in a way that poses a big challenge for companies planning to build driverless cars, according to new research.
The researchers, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions, presented variations of the classic “trolley problem” thought experiment almost 40m times to millions of volunteers from all around the world.
In the traditional thought experiment, participants are asked to consider whether they would reroute a runaway trolley car which is about to hit and kill five people, directing it on to a siding where it would kill only one person. In the new quiz, dubbed “Moral Machine”, the researchers instead asked volunteers to consider what a self-driving car should do in examples from more than 26 million variations of the same question.
Should a car with three occupants, an adult man and woman and a child, swerve into a wall, killing them all, in order to avoid hitting three elderly people, two men and a woman? Should an unoccupied car swerve and kill an unemployed adult man, a child and a cat in order to save an adult man and woman and a child? Does the answer change if the pedestrian light is red? What if one of the people is unfit, or pregnant?
Responses to those questions varied greatly around the world. In the global south, for instance, there was a strong preference to spare young people at the expense of old – a preference that was much weaker in the far east and the Islamic world. The same was true for the preference for sparing higher-status victims – those with jobs over those who are unemployed.