The trolley problem of self-driving cars

The infamous trolley problem is constantly in our lives. Imagine that you are standing next to some tram tracks and you see a train speeding straight towards five people who are tied to the track. However, you can change the direction of trolley by pushing the lever but there is one person tied to track. What do you do?

It may or not surprise you that the answer differs according to nationality, gender, age and whether the decision is just hypothetical or actually involves real lives. So, would you pull the lever, leading to one death but saving five? 

A famous ethical dilemma was recently applied by MIT researchers to the self-driving cars world. In 2014 they created an experiment called Moral Machine. 

The idea was to create a game-like platform that would crowdsource people’s decisions on how self-driving cars should prioritize lives in different variations of the “trolley problem.” In the process, the data generated would provide insight into the collective ethical priorities of different cultures.

After four years they got millions of answers and they did not expect such major feedback. The analysis of collected data can be found in new paper ’Nature’.

If autonomous vehicles will become our day to day reality, society will have to deal with brand new issue about which lives to prioritize in case of a crash. The Moral Machine tested different variants similar to trolley problem: humans or pets, more lives or fewer, pedestrians or passengers, young or old, fit or sickly, women or men, higher social status person or lower.

How the decision is affected by the cultural background of decision-making person?

Studies showed that countries in which the culture is more individualistic are more likely to spare young over old. For example, people from countries like Taiwan and China. Participants in Latin America countries, were more likely to spare the young, the fit and the higher status individuals. Across the globe were few trends which are repeatable, save humans over animals, more lives over fewer. 

In the last few years more people had thought about the ethics of AI. It can lead to various consequences on different cultural groups. Of course there is no „correct” answer to the given question. However, it is undoubtedly problem in self-driving cars and crashes. What are your thoughts about it? How would you solve this dilemmas?





The following two tabs change content below.

Marchelewska Karolina


Latest posts by Marchelewska Karolina (see all)

4 thoughts on “The trolley problem of self-driving cars

  1. Avatar Ryłko Jakub says:

    I personally think that this is the biggest issue connected with self-driving cars. Actually, if a human being make such decision on the road and no matter how many people he or she will kill – they will be judged. And now a real problem appears: how to judge a machine? Should we judge the owner of the car or the carmaker? I am really curious how this things will be resolved.

    • Avatar Marchelewska Karolina says:

      I would totally agree with your statement because how we can judge machine? I am not even surprised that you are curious how the thing will be solved as it is very interesting topic. In my opinion it is impossible to punish either owner of the car or the manufacturer. When it comets decision the owner has probably really small impact on the software and how it is programmed so in terms of deciding who would be guilty I would be leaning on more to the fault of the manufacturer. I personally think that every crash would be different case which could not be perceived the same.

  2. Avatar Mohammad Ewelina says:

    As far as I am concerned, investigations and further legal processes concerning artificial intelligence, machines or robots, are very likely to obtain a completely separate and specialized method of procedures, proceedings, and judiciary. It will be based on machine learning, earlier cases and estimating social harm. We’ve already entered this era of technological boom, revolution, and as we can clearly see in previous posts, new algorithms and innovations are being implemented even to our legal system. Therefore as a society we need to standarize the cases of future technological activities and inventions such as self-driving cars and implement the formalization of its use.

  3. Avatar Bober Joanna says:

    First of all, prioritizing lives is a problem to consider too. Why would we (or machines) choose who will live and who will die? Will we choose a young person over an old one? And it the old one will be a famous celebrity, will we choose him instead of a random old person? That’s en ethical dilemma we should think about too.
    I know that self driving cars are not only saving time and money (for big trucks drivers) but also are an alternative and safer way to travel. But the question is – should we entrust our lifes and safety to the AI controlled car? What if we would be a pedestrian and a self-driving car will choose life of young woman over ours?

Leave a Reply