Australia's driverless car ethics revealed
Cultural differences between drivers from Australia and other countries have been exposed in an ethical survey surrounding self-driving cars.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology surveyed people from across the globe, asking them how they believe autonomous vehicles should operate in life-or-death scenarios.
People were asked to decide the fate of characters in hopeless situations - for example, whether an autonomous car carrying three people should smash into a wall, killing its occupants, or swerve around the wall to kill four pedestrians.
As previously reported, respondents on average showed a preference for saving thin people as opposed to overweight people, the young over old and pedestrians over motorists.
A further examination of nation-by-nation results reveals Australians were more likely to choose to spare fit people than the global average and more likely to favour young people overall.
Aussies were more likely to prioritise the good of groups over individuals and showed a slight preference for pedestrians over motorists.
Unsurprisingly, given the nation’s convict roots, Australian respondents were significantly less likely to prioritise sparing the law-abiding citizens over those tho ignore traffic signals - sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum to people from Brunei, which placed the highest priority on protecting people who uphold the law by crossing the road on a green light.
Researchers found Australians were close in nature to New Zealanders, who were more likely to prioritise the lives of animals over people, and ranked among the top five countries in the world for preferring inaction - letting a car travel on its original course in a doomed scenario.
Australia also was seen as “extremely similar” to the UK, NZ, US, Greece and Canada, but “extremely different” to Brazil, China, and Japan.
Chinese respondents were similar to Kiwis in that they were less likely to encourage a car to swerve away from its original course, but were markedly different in showing a bias toward protecting older people as opposed to the young, and motorists as opposed to pedestrians.
By contrast, Japan showed an extreme bias toward pedestrians - the highest in the world - as well as elderly and vulnerable citizens.
Dr Michael Harre, senior lecturer in complex systems at The University of Sydney, said “recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have given us incredible insights into the individual aspects of our decision-making, but what is lacking is an understanding of how our cultural complexity emerges from the diversity of our individual behaviour” - something the study begins to address.
But other academics such as Colin Gavaghan, associate professor at the faculty of law in New Zealand’s University of Otago, says the results are of limited use.
“Most drivers will never have to face such a stark dilemma, and those who do will not have time to think through consequentialist and deontological ethics before swerving or braking!” he says.
“The law tends to be pretty forgiving of people who respond instinctively to sudden emergencies. The possibility of programming ethics into a driverless car, though, takes this to another level.
“That being so, which ethics should we programme? And how much should that be dictated by majority views? Some of the preferences expressed in this research would be hard to square with our approaches to discrimination and equality – favouring lives on the basis of sex or income, for instance, really wouldn’t pass muster here.”
More information: The Moral Machine.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…