Self-driving cars have one major problem to deal with: who dies in a car crash? Does the car always, unequivocally, protect its passengers, or should it think about the best way to preserve humanity? It’s a question that many organisations just don’t want to answer, with the US government’s new regulations on autonomous car tech avoiding the question of death entirely.
But it’s okay – thanks to a new online activity from MIT known as the “Moral Machine”, you can solve the world’s problems through simple A or B choices. Unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward: MIT’s online “game” isn’t about making obvious choices, but about making you question which option is morally right. Would you kill the overweight occupants of a self-driving car if it meant saving the lives of three athletes? What if the car was only going to hit one person walking four dogs, saving a mother and child in the process?
MIT’s 13 scenarios become increasingly distressing to choose between, drawing upon individual’s health, social class, profession and more. These individual attributes are usually then mixed together to form a crowd, making your decision tougher than previously thought. In reality, there’s no right or wrong answer – highlighting just how tricky it is for a self-driving vehicle to decide who dies in any given situation.
Obviously, the idea of self-driving cars is to reduce the number of accidents on the road in the first place, but to build a car without such protocols in place is careless. If we were to treat the self-driving car’s process in a similar manner to that of a human driver, preserving the lives of the car’s occupants should ring true the majority of the time.
MIT states that the goal of its little online activity is to “build a crowdsourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas”.
If playing through the different scenarios wasn’t grim enough, you’ll also receive a breakdown at the end of all the people and animals you chose to kill. This is then compared to other user’s choices, so you can see just how terrible a person you are. A nice and uplifting task on a Monday morning, don’t you think?