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Ethics guidelines for self-driving cars

It is important for self-driving cars to have ethics. If the software is able to recognize and interpret situations someone is going to have to program in appropriate and ethical responses to the situations. For example, if a car is about to get in a head-on collision can the car swerve out of the way and hit a pedestrian? Should it stay where it is and risk the driver’s death? Self-driving cars are going to have to make these sorts of life-and-death decisions, and it is important there is consensus about the correct decision. To protect the public, it is necessary to have guidelines on how self-driving cars can behave.

Germany has some of the largest auto manufacturers in the world, including Audi, BMW, and VW, and these companies are going to be bringing self-driving cars to the market in the near future. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s Ethics Commission on Automated Driving just came out with a set of ethics guidelines for self-driving cars. ┬áThese guidelines will be used when approving self-driving cars for sale. There are twenty points in the guidelines. Here are some of the key ones:

  • It is very important to switch to self-driving cars if they are safer than regular cars because it will save lives.
  • Damaging property is lower priority than damaging people. The car should always try and save humans regardless of the property damage or damage to the car.
  • In an unavoidable accident the car cannot distinguish between different people by age, ethnicity, etc. For example, the car should not prefer to hit an old lady in order to save a baby.
  • It should always be clear to the driver whether the car or the driver is in control. It should also log which is driving.
  • Drivers get to decide whether to let companies collect their data.

These look great. Even if you disagree with some of the points, at least it is a consistent framework. If every car uses it they can work better together because there is no unexpected behavior between them. This will make a safe technology even safer.

Next steps:

Read BMVI’s press release about this.

Read the guidelines (in German).