Ethics, Algorithms and Self-Driving Cars – A CSI of the ‘Trolley Problem’

CEPS Policy Insight - No 2018/02, January 2018

17 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2018

See all articles by Andrea Renda

Andrea Renda

Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS); College of Europe

Date Written: January 17, 2018


Many experts argue that focusing on how automated cars will solve the dilemma known as the ‘trolley problem’ isn’t going to get us very far in the debate about the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). But it’s hard to resist if you are a philosopher, an ethicist, a futurist, or simply a geek – and it’s fun. Still, this dilemma can reveal a number of outstanding policy issues that are often neglected in the public debate.

This paper performs a ‘crime scene investigation’ to find some of the missing parts in the ethics/AI quandary. These include the need to preserve human control over machines; the need to take data governance and ownership seriously; algorithmic accountability and transparency; various forms of user empowerment and their tension in relation to overall system control; the need for modernised tort rules; and more generally, a discussion about whether algorithms should reflect, exacerbate or mitigate the biases existing in our society.

The investigation concludes that current legal systems are insufficiently equipped to cope with most of these issues, and that a mapping of outstanding ethical and policy dilemmas is a useful starting point for a thorough overhaul of public policies in this complex and ever-expanding domain.

Keywords: artificial intelligence, AI, AI ethics, automated cars, trolley problem

Suggested Citation

Renda, Andrea, Ethics, Algorithms and Self-Driving Cars – A CSI of the ‘Trolley Problem’ (January 17, 2018). CEPS Policy Insight - No 2018/02, January 2018 , Available at SSRN:

Andrea Renda (Contact Author)

Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) ( email )

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College of Europe ( email )

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