US President Asks About Self Driving Car Moral Decisions

US President Barack Obama has been discussing how car makers need to carefully consider what values to instill into their autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Obama talked about the issue in an interview with Wired magazine's editor, Scott Dadich: "There are gonna be a bunch of choices that you have to make, the classic problem being: if the car is driving, you can swerve to avoid hitting a pedestrian, but then you might hit a wall and kill yourself. It's a moral decision, and who’s setting up those rules?" It is not just the US President considering these questions and issues: the MIT has recently built a website that asks visitors to decide how a self-driving car should respond in dangerous circumstances, specifically where both the driver and pedestrians are at risk. Mercedes-Benz have already answered the question and are planning on instilling the rule that the driverless car puts the driver (or vehicle, or passengers) first, according to Car and Driver magazine. This, of course, could be subject to change: some readers and car buyers might not like the idea that the machine puts itself first, without due consideration for passengers, even if this is how we drive.

More and more car manufacturers and technology companies are investing greater and greater sums into self driving technology. In addition to Mercedes-Benz, other automakers such as Ford are working on getting the autonomous technology ready for the market. Ford is aiming to have a fleet of self-driving vehicles ready by 2021, which is three years behind Tesla's 2018 target. Google's fleet of self-driving vehicles is now capable of driving better than a sixteen year old, having covered two million miles. The technology is not yet ready for the road but is advancing relatively quickly. This is not lost on governments around the world, who understand that legislation will need to be amended in order to allow driverless cars on the road. Some governments have already started the process of amending insurance and road laws and are also considering how autonomous vehicle technology and research could be beneficial for the county. In the words of Obama: "We have machines that can make a bunch of quick decisions that could drastically reduce traffic fatalities, drastically improve the efficiency of our transpor­tation grid, and help solve things like carbon emissions that are causing the warming of the planet." Another example is the United Kingdom, where the first British autonomous car test was performed earlier this week in Milton Keynes.

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David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.