The Ethics of Autonomy

A new Car survey explores consumers willingness to accept driverless cars. The Eno Center for Transportation claims the proliferation of self-driving cars could cut down on vehicle-related injuries by up to 90% while saving the U.S. economy around $450 billion annually. The Eno Center further reports a vast majority of accidents occur because of human error, and more than 40% of wrecks involve drugs, alcohol, distraction or fatigue.

But what of the ethics of autonomy? What if someone walks out into the street in front of a driverless car. The car doesn’t have sufficient time to stop. Imagine the autonomous car can react quickly, but is faced with only two equally negative and opposing outcomes. Unable to stop completely, it can proceed to hit the pedestrian. Or it can swerve the car into oncoming traffic. Autonomous vehicles will be programmed to respond to incoming sensor data, but what if those data don’t provide an option that allows for zero injuries. Who should the autonomous vehicle protect – the driver or the pedestrian?