5. The Outcome
There is no right answer:
Even if we came to a consensus about which decision to program into autonomous vehicles and was inclined to do so, we are still technology limited. Presently, self-driving cars lack the technological capability to distinguish between features of individual pedestrians or even assess the number of occupants in other vehicles. While many consider this to be a limiting factor in the advancement of autonomous vehicle technology, there is an argument in commensurability that the lack of car’s’ ability to distinguish between pedestrians may be favorable. Many opponents of pulling the lever state that the problem lies in the fact that human lives are incommensurable – i.e. they lack any common standard of measurement and cannot be compared. In a situation where the car is forced to swerve into either one of two cars or pedestrians its lack of ability to distinguish between the two may provide it with an ethical absolvement. Self-driving cars are currently just machines which will take the objectively best course of action – regardless of moral implications and perhaps that is how they should remain.
There also exists the argument from many within the autonomous car industry that moral dilemmas such as these are exceedingly rare and they undermine the risk management procedures which are implemented to deal with much more commonly occurring scenarios. Noah Goodall, a scientist at the Virginia Transportation Research Council states that focusing too extensively on ethical dilemmas such as the trolley problem risks marginalizing the study on how best to conduct self-driving car ethics. From a utilitarian standpoint, it makes much sense to focus on how to implement morals on commonly occurring situations – a practice that many self-driving car manufacturers already partake in.
Lastly, regardless of how these moral dilemmas are eventually resolved, it is important to bear in mind their ethical benefits. Removing human error from the entire driving equation will undoubtedly save lives – resulting in an ultimately net benefit in the matter of utilitarianism.
Peter Singer, Ethics and Intuitions The Journal of Ethics (2005). https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/200510–.pdf
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