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News Link • Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Here's a Terrible Idea: Robot Cars With Adjustable Ethics Settings

• http://www.wired.com, By Patrick Lin

Thankfully, your autonomous car saved their lives by grabbing the wheel from you and swerving to the right. Too bad for the one unlucky person standing on that path, struck and killed by your car.

Did your robot car make the right decision? This scene, of course, is based on the infamous "trolley problem" that many folks are now talking about in AI ethics. It's a plausible scene, since even cars today have crash-avoidance features: some can brake by themselves to avoid collisions, and others can change lanes too.

The thought-experiment is a moral dilemma, because there's no clearly right way to go. It's generally better to harm fewer people than more, to have one person die instead of five. But the car manufacturer creates liability for itself in following that rule, sensible as it may be. Swerving the car directly results in that one person's death: this is an act of killing. Had it done nothing, the five people would have died, but you would have killed them, not the car manufacturer which in that case would merely have let them die.

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