Driverless cars are revved up to make getting from one place to another safer and less stressful. But clashing views over how such vehicles should be programmed to deal with emergencies may stall the transportation transformation, a new study finds.
People generally approve of the idea of automated vehicles designed to swerve into walls or otherwise sacrifice their passengers to save a greater number pedestrians, say psychologist Jean-François Bonnefon of the Toulouse School of Economics in France and his colleagues. But here’s the hitch: Those same people want to ride in cars that protect passengers at all costs, even if pedestrians end up dying, the researchers report in the June 24 Science.
“Autonomous cars can revolutionize transportation,” says cognitive scientist and study coauthor Iyad Rahwan of the University of California, Irvine and MIT. “But they pose a social and moral dilemma that may delay adoption of this technology.”
Such conflict puts makers of computerized cars in a tough spot, Bonnefon’s group warns. Given a choice between driverless cars programmed for the greater good or for self-protection, consumers will overwhelmingly choose the latter. Regulations to enforce the design of passenger-sacrificing cars would backfire, the scientists suspect, driving away potential buyers. If so, plans for easing traffic congestion, reducing pollution and eliminating many traffic accidents with driverless cars would be dashed.