MIT Applies the Trolley Problem to Driverless Cars

  • October 26th 2018

by Nena Perry-Brown

MIT Applies the Trolley Problem to Driverless Cars: Figure 1

As the prospect of sharing the road with self-driving vehicles becomes increasingly real, it also presents the opportunity to gauge the moral compass of various cultures worldwide.

Towards that end, MIT Media Lab researchers developed a "game" where users logged 40 million answers to variations of the classic "trolley problem": If a trolley is speeding down a track and will hit five people, or could be diverted to just hit one person, do you divert it to spare the many?

In this modern iteration, the Moral Machine asked nine versions of this question using an autonomous vehicle (AV) as the mode of transportation in question, pitting the many vs. the few, the elderly vs. the young, women vs. men, humans vs. pets, the fit vs. the feeble, the law-abiding vs. the law-bending, high-status vs. low-status, passengers vs. pedestrians, and asking whether it is better to swerve away or stay the course.

The results, as analyzed by Nature and summarized in the MIT Technology Review this week, show that most peoples' moral compasses are correlated with the overall culture and economics of their society. Countries like the U.S. tended to favor the young over the old, those in crosswalks over jay-walkers, and, where applicable, the many over the few. Respondents in the U.S. also tended to slightly favor sparing passengers in a vehicle over pedestrians. 

Although the results of this crowd-sourced study are far from prescriptive, DC and other local governments either have faced or will have to grapple with these and many other moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding the gradual and largely-unregulated integration of AVs on our streets.

See other articles related to: autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars, technology

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/mit-applies-the-trolley-problem-to-driverless-cars/14621.

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