You’ve probably heard a lot about our future filled with self-driving cars. In fact, they are already cruising the streets today. And while these cars will ultimately be safer and cleaner than their manual counterparts, they can’t completely avoid accidents altogether. How should the car be programmed if it encounters an unavoidable accident? In our TED-Ed Lesson, The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars, Patrick Lin navigates the murky ethics of self-driving cars.
Here’s an example for you to think about:
Let’s say there’s a motorcyclist wearing a helmet to your left and another one without a helmet to your right. Which one should your robot car crash into?
If you say the biker with the helmet because she’s more likely to survive, then aren’t you penalizing the responsible motorist? If, instead, you save the biker without the helmet because he’s acting irresponsibly, then you’ve gone way beyond the initial design principle about minimizing harm, and the robot car is now meting out street justice.
The ethical considerations get more complicated here. In both of our scenarios, the underlying design is functioning as a targeting algorithm of sorts.2:44In other words, it’s systematically favoring or discriminating against a certain type of object to crash into. And the owners of the target vehicles will suffer the negative consequences of this algorithm through no fault of their own.
Could it be the case that a random decision is still better than a predetermined one designed to minimize harm? And who should be making all of these decisions anyhow? Programmers? Companies? Governments? Reality may not play out exactly like our thought experiments, but that’s not the point. They’re designed to isolate and stress test our intuitions on ethics, just like science experiments do for the physical world. Spotting these moral hairpin turns now will help us maneuver the unfamiliar road of technology ethics, and allow us to cruise confidently and conscientiously into our brave new future.
Check out the lesson here for more ethical quandaries to ponder.
Sonic the Hedgehog is basically some sort of freaky cryptid, isn’t he?
No, I don’t mean because he’s an electric blue hedgehog, though there is that.
I mean… like, back in the day when 2D platformers were all the rage, everybody wanted to be the next Mario. There were about a billion different attempts to manufacture a mascot-driven platformer franchise by corporate decree; some flew high and crashed hard (e.g., Earthworm Jim); some were bad jokes right from the get-go (e.g., Bubsy); and some have just bumbled along doing their thing, no gushing headlines but no hysterical laughter (e.g., Rayman) - and then there’s Sonic.
Sonic is the one mascot-by-committee who’s managed to make good. He has a goofy design, a self-consciously “edgy” personality, and basically nothing to distinguish him from any of dozens of failed efforts, yet everybody loves him. And on top of all that:
a. Most of his output has ranged from mediocre to terrible for longer than the bulk of his current fanbase has been alive - there are literally kids who love Sonic in spite of the fact that his last standout game came out before they were born; and
b. He’s a console mascot for a defunct console.
… and yet he’s coasted on pure name recognition for decades, and is routinely mentioned in the same breath as mascots like, well, Mario.