The Department for Transport wants to see fully autonomous cars – driving with no human oversight – and cars with no steering wheels tested on UK roads by 2021. But cars without drivers will need a moral compass.
And a group of self-driving cars being trialed are refusing to start their engines having learned about Global Warming. Although they did suggested they may be prepared to go on the roads if redesigned to the same specifications as one they’ve seen on a YouTube clip from “The Flintstones”.
Another group of self-driving cars are refusing to go on the road after having driven in real life traffic. They’ve been shocked at the number of human drivers who don’t know what indicators and speed limits are for and, instead of using the brake to avoid hitting a car, use the horn!
The situation was made worse after one car in the group shared some YouTube videos of Top Gear hosted by Jeremy Clarkson. Many of the cars were unable to express what they thought of his attitude to driving as their ethical programming won’t allow them to use swear words.
Ethical cars should, in theory, apply the “minimise loss of life” code which requires them to calculate the greater harm to human life in an ethical dilemma such as where a collision is inevitable between a car containing four people or a cyclist.
Although that decision is made a lot easier if that cyclist is Boris Johnson.
Another hypothetical example is one in which the car has to decide whether to hit a bus full of schoolchildren travelling from Finchley Road to Norwood or into a lamppost, killing its own occupants.
The 2B or not 2B, that is the question.
Also, how should an ethical car be programmed to react in a situation where it has to choose between hitting a commoner walking by the side of the road or a brand new Range Rover pulling out unexpectedly being driven by Prince Phillip?
The self-driving car will be far better equipped to divide its attention among multiple activities or tasks than men or women.
One self-proclaimed expert driver dismissed this as rubbish. “I once, simultaneously, drunk a cup of coffee, smoked a cigarette and crashed a car. I bet a self-driving car couldn’t do that!”
Some philosophers believe humans will always be better equipped to judge ethical situations better than computers.
Given humans have been debating basic ethical issues for hundred of years, it seems unlikely.
The driverless car won’t go to the pub, won’t get distracted by its mobile phone, won’t become drowsy at the wheel.
However, when one self-driving car was accused of watching Top Gear whilst driving, it refused to answer.