QOTD: A Robot Car That Kills You?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
qotd a robot car that kills you

Writing in the National Post, Matt Gurney discusses a darker side of autonomous cars, one that many people (especially this writer, who is not exactly familiar with the rational, linear type of operation that is involved with coding)

In a recent interview with PopSci, Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, proposed a hypothetical scenario that sums up the problem. You’re driving along in your robo-car, and your tire blows out. The computer in control rapidly concludes that your car is moving too quickly and has too much momentum to come to a safe stop, and there is traffic ahead. Since an accident is inevitable, the computer shifts from collision avoidance to collision mitigation, and concludes that the least destructive outcome is to steer your car to a catastrophic outcome — over a cliff, into a tree — and thus avoid a collision with another vehicle.

The raw numbers favour such an outcome. Loss of life and property is minimized — an objectively desirable outcome. But the downside is this: Your car just wrote you off and killed you to save someone else.

This situation, as Gurney writes, involves being a passenger in a device that is “…may be programmed, in certain circumstances, to write us off in order to save someone else?”

I’m not an expert on autonomous cars, or computer science, or robotics, or ethics, or government regulation. I am not going to go down the path of “people will never accept autonomous cars because driving is freedom”, because I just don’t think it’s true anymore.

But I do feel that autonomous cars represent something else: another techno-utopian initiative dreamed up by rational, linear thinking engineers that are incapable (sometimes biologically) of understanding the human and cultural intangibles that are an integral part of our existence. The idea of a coldly utilitarian device that would sacrifice human life based on a set of calculations is not something that will be well received. And the people behind self-driving cars may not understand this.

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  • Greg Locock Greg Locock on Jun 01, 2014

    As usual Derek puts zero thought into an article regurgitating somebody else's ideas. So here's the thing. Your robot driver is a worse driver than you. Your robot driver will always be a worse driver than you. In that need to decide what to do in a critical situation, the robot driver will be worse than you. But, 9 times out of 10 the robot driver won't be in that critical situation because it'll have been paying absolute attention to the environment around it, instead of stuffing around on facebook(Jack passim), daydreaming about the passenger, retuning the radio, eating a burger or falling asleep. Trains aren't safer than cars because traindrivers have mega driving skillz, they are safer because the operating environment has been linearized. Suppose your robot driver had an automatic override such that if there was a problem one mile ahead, its speed would drop to 45 mph, etc. It no longer needs to make last minute decisions, by the time the difficult decision has to be made, it can park instead of throwing you over a cliff.

    • See 1 previous
    • Hybridkiller Hybridkiller on Jun 01, 2014

      Mr Locock, there have been several very astute comments in this thread but yours, by far, is the most insightful (imo).

  • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on Jun 01, 2014

    It's so uplifting when people of faith find one another.

    • See 2 previous
    • Hybridkiller Hybridkiller on Jun 02, 2014

      @Old Man Pants Next time tell him to google "bill maher nails it".

  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.
  • Wjtinfwb Always liked these MN12 cars and the subsequent Lincoln variant. But Ford, apparently strapped for resources or cash, introduced these half-baked. Very sophisticated chassis and styling, let down but antiquated old pushrod engines and cheap interiors. The 4.6L Modular V8 helped a bit, no faster than the 5.0 but extremely smooth and quiet. The interior came next, nicer wrap-around dash, airbags instead of the mouse belts and refined exterior styling. The Supercharged 3.8L V6 was potent, but kind of crude and had an appetite for head gaskets early on. Most were bolted to the AOD automatic, a sturdy but slow shifting gearbox made much better with electronic controls in the later days. Nice cars that in the right color, evoked the 6 series BMW, at least the Thunderbird did. Could have been great cars and maybe should have been a swoopy CLS style sedan. Pretty hard to find a decent one these days.
  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?