Survey maps global variations in ethics for programming autonomous vehicles
Amy Maxmen | Nature
When a driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the road illegally, she is making a moral decision that shifts risk from the pedestrian to the people in the car. Self-driving cars might soon have to make such ethical judgments on their own — but settling on a universal moral code for the vehicles could be a thorny task, suggests a survey of 2.3 million people from around the world.
The largest ever survey of machine ethics1, published today in Nature, finds that many of the moral principles that guide a driver’s decisions vary by country. For example, in a scenario in which some combination of pedestrians and passengers will die in a collision, people from relatively prosperous countries with strong institutions were less likely to spare a pedestrian who stepped into traffic illegally.
“People who think about machine ethics make it sound like you can come up with a perfect set of rules for robots, and what we show here with data is that there are no universal rules,” says Iyad Rahwan, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a co-author of the study.