The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles

Article in a refereed journal

Jean-François Bonnefon, Iyad Rahwan and Azim Shariff, "The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles", Science, vol. 352, n. 6293, June 2016, p. 1573-1576. doi:10.1126/science.aaf2654.


Autonomous vehicles (AVs) should reduce traffic accidents, but they will sometimes have to choose between two evils, such as running over pedestrians or sacrificing themselves and their passenger to save the pedestrians. Defining the algorithms that will help AVs make these moral decisions is a formidable challenge. We found that participants in six Amazon Mechanical Turk studies approved of utilitarian AVs (that is, AVs that sacrifice their passengers for the greater good) and would like others to buy them, but they would themselves prefer to ride in AVs that protect their passengers at all costs. The study participants disapprove of enforcing utilitarian regulations for AVs and would be less willing to buy such an AV. Accordingly, regulating for utilitarian algorithms may paradoxically increase casualties by postponing the adoption of a safer technology.

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