Automated Vehicles and Moral Ambiguity | You Should Listen To ThisOctober 11th, 2017
What technology has had the largest effect on society in the last 10 years? Why did it have such an effect? Was its impact positive or negative? And how did our society adapt to challenges of this new technology? These are the questions that RADIOLAB sought to answer in last week’s episode which discussed the implementation of automated vehicles.
The hosts of the show note that self-driving cars will overhaul entire industries built around drives and cars. Truckers and taxi drivers, insurance companies and city parking, rest stops and hotels, all major businesses that will abate as more and more automated vehicles hit the road.
What makes this episode stand out, however, is the important moral and ethical question the hosts raise when difficult situations arise. This episode takes listeners down a social psychology lesson through the traditional ‘Trolley Problem’ and its many adaptations. The puzzle asks bystanders to respond with one of two options to a train hurling down a railway track. You can either do nothing, in which case 5 individuals will be hit by a train, or pull a lever to move the train to a different track with only one person in the way. The episode highlights the groundbreaking science of moral psychology being a neurological and ingrained brain mechanism rather than a taught heuristic device.
What makes this a podcast you should listen to, however, is the application of this ethical quandary to the application of automated and artificially intelligent cars. All of a sudden the trolley dilemma comes to life. This question raises fundamental and deep issues that will need to be decided during the development and implementation of this new technology. When there are only two less than ideal options to make, how does a car decide to act, and what are the implications for businesses, users, and pedestrians?
The episode concludes with current actions being taken by companies and governments to address this problem. Some companies are calling for industry-wide collaboration to require a standard and uniform application to this debate. Others find a clear answer in protecting the those inside the vehicle, as guaranteeing the safety of those inside is simpler than the alternative. Lastly, Germany is the leading nation in ethical determination in this discussion, having outright stated that companies can not program cars to discriminate between individuals in any way.
This episode is an intriguing debate between tech and morals, and you should listen to it to explore more of your own answers to the social psychological questions raised in the episode.