Crashing into the Unknown: An Examination of Crash-Optimization Algorithms Through the Two Lanes of Ethics and Law
85 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2015 Last revised: 10 Apr 2016
Date Written: March 8, 2016
Autonomous vehicles will encounter situations where an accident is truly unavoidable, requiring the vehicle to decide whom or what to hit. In such situations, the vehicle will make difficult ethical decisions based upon its programming — more specifically, how its crash-optimization algorithm is programmed.
This Article examines crash-optimization algorithms from an ethical and legal standpoint through the lenses of six moral dilemmas. Ethically, the Article focuses specifically on utilitarian and Kantian ethics. Legally, the Article considers the tort and criminal law implications of crash-optimization algorithms. In addition, the Article discusses whether autonomous vehicles should even make ethical decisions. Concluding that they should make ethical decisions, the next consideration is whose — the car owner’s, the car manufacturer’s, or the government’s — ethical beliefs should the car be programmed to follow. Recognizing that no one party could program a fully ethical vehicle, the Article concludes by asserting that the government should provide partial immunity to the car manufacturer to ensure that the vehicles are programmed according to ethics.
Keywords: Autonomous Vehicles, Automated Cars, Self-Driving Car, Google Car, Ethics, Kant, Utilitarianism, Law, Criminal Law, Tort Law, Liability, Accidents, Car Crashes, Trolley Problem
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