Should Autonomous Cars Have Feelings About Crashes?
Should autonomous cars have feelings about crashes? There are good reasons to believe that car crashes are inevitable, even in autonomous vehicle systems. Feelings and emotions are ways that human beings control their behaviors and their expectations of others, and they influence the split-second choices that they make in vehicle crash situations.
In most science fiction novels, autonomous cars or taxis are relatively uncomplicated mechanisms; you enter the desired location and the machine does the work. For example, consider the tin cabbie from James Blish's 1957 novel Cities in Flight:
The cab came floating down out of the sky at the intersection and maneuvered itself to rest at the curb next to them with a finicky precision. There was, of course, nobody in it; like everything else in the world requiring an IQ of less than 150, it was computer-controlled...
Chris studied the cab with the liveliest interest, for though he had often seen them before from a distance, he had of course never ridden in one. But there was very little to see. The cab was an egg-shaped bubble of light metals and plastics, painted with large red-and-white checkers, with a row of windows running all around it. Inside, there were two seats for four people, a speaker grille, and that was all: no controls and no instruments...
However, in Philip K. Dick's 1952 short story A Present for Pat, robot taxi drivers display real feelings and emotions:
"Robots have no wives," the driver said. "They are nonsexual. Robots have no friends, either. They are incapable of emotional relationships."
"Can robots be fired?"
"Sometimes." The robot drew his cab up before Eric's modest six-room bungalow. "But consider. Robots are frequently melted down and new robots made from the remains. Recall Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the section concerning the Button Molder. The lines clearly anticipate in symbolic form the trauma of robots to come."
"Yeah." The door opened and Eric got out. "I guess we all have our problems."
"Robots have worse problems than anybody." The door shut and the cab zipped off, back down the hill.
(Read more about PKD's robot cab)
I'm not differentiating between an autonomous car and a car driven by an autonomous robot here, but the basic idea is the same.
In a recent study published in the Transportation Research Record, Noah Goodall points out that road vehicles are significantly different, in that (for example) trains only move in one dimension on a set track, and the only choices have to do with the speed of the vehicle. Cars on the road, on the other hand, have many more degrees of freedom, and there is an irreducible moral component to the choices that the autonomous driver must make.
These advanced automated vehicles will be able to make pre-crash decisions using sophisticated software and sensors that can accurately detect nearby vehicle trajectories and perform high speed avoidance maneuvers, thereby overcoming many of the limitations experienced by humans. If a crash is unavoidable, a computer can quickly calculate the best way to crash based on combination of safety, likelihood of outcome, and certainty in measurements,
much faster and with greater precision than a human. The computer may decide that braking alone is not optimal, since at highway speeds it is often be more effective to combine braking with swerving, or even swerving and accelerating in an evasive maneuver.
One major disadvantage of automated vehicles during crashes is that unlike a human driver who can decide how to crash in real-time, an automated vehicle's decision of how to crash was defined by a programmer ahead of time. The automated vehicle can interpret the sensor data and make a decision, but the decision itself is a result of logic developed and coded months or years ago. This is not a problem in cases where a crash can be avoided—the vehicle selects the safest path and proceeds. However if injury cannot be avoided, the automated vehicle must decide how best to crash. This quickly becomes a moral decision.
Goodall then asks if it is possible to design an ethical robotic vehicle. Science fiction writers have long wondered about this possibility, and Goodall mentions Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, rewriting them for this context:
- An automated vehicle may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- An automated vehicle must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- An automated vehicle must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Many problems can be seen with this scenario, as Goodall points out. What if a vehicle decides that there is too much traffic, and Rule (1) requires that it give up and stay in the driveway? I could well imagine a Philip K. Dick-designed car that might just give up. Or a Douglas Adams-designed vehicle with a Genuine People Personality inclined toward depression:
"...I'll send the robot down to get them and bring them up here. Hey Marvin!”
In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled about imperceptibly. It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about five pounds heavier that it actually was, and made what an outside observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room. It stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left shoulder.
“I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed,” it said. Its voice was low and hopeless...
(Read more about Marvin the Robot)
Goodall concludes his paper by setting forth a strategy for developing vehicles with the necessary moral behaviors, including self-expression, to explain its actions to human occupants and other drivers.
A three-phase strategy for developing and regulating moral behavior in automated
vehicles was proposed, to be implemented as technology progresses. The first phase is a
rationalistic moral system for automated vehicles that will take action to minimize the impact of
a crash based on generally agreed upon principles, e.g. injuries are preferable to fatalities. The
second phase introduces machine learning techniques to study human decisions across a range of
real-world and simulated crash scenarios to develop similar values. The rules from the first
approach remain in place as behavioral boundaries. The final phase requires an automated
vehicle to express its decisions using natural language, so that its highly complex and potentially
incomprehensible-to-humans logic may be understood and corrected.
Hopefully, autonomous vehicles will be able to achieve some measure of ethical clarity without having, as Dick puts it, "worse problems than anybody."
From Ethical Decision Making During Automated Vehicle Crashes (pdf) via Buisiness Week, via Frolix_8.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/15/2014)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )
Related News Stories -
BMW's Remote Valet Parking Assistant
'Mary... claimed her car from the robopark...'- Robert Heinlein, 1941.
Lit Motors Self-Balancing Motorcycle
'He had never ridden any motorized device that lacked onboard steering and balance systems...'- Bruce Sterling, 1998.
Robert Heinlein, Your Self-Driving Car Is Almost Ready!
'Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...'-= Robert Heinlein, 1941.
Tesla 90 Percent Autonomous Car By 2015 - Elon Musk
'It cut her out of the stream of vehicles and reduced the speed of her car...'- Robert Heinlein, 1941
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
BMW's Remote Valet Parking Assistant
'Mary... claimed her car from the robopark...'
HAVOC Over Venus ala Bespin
'Cloud City is an installation on the planet Bespin...'
Neuroscientist Works Toward Virtual Immortality ala Clarke
'Nothing will be left of Jeserac but a galaxy of electrons frozen in the heart of a crystal.'
A Basic Income TED Talk
'They de-emphasized what lack of work would do to Mr. Everyman'
Smart Window Tints, Powers Itself
'The polawindow, which he tuned to clear transmission.'
What Can Magic Leap Expect From New 'Chief Futurist' Neal Stephenson?
'The goggles throw a light, smoky haze across his eyes...'
Should SETI Talk To Molecular Cloud Barnard 68?
'I myself am building basic chemicals at about 10,000,000,000 times the rate at which building is occurring on the whole ... surface of your planet.'
EXACTO Bullets Change Course In Mid-Air
'This little weapon ejects a rather ingenious missile...'
LikeAGlove Smart Garment Knows Your Size
'The tailor set moving a mechanism...'
Button-Pushing Robots Have Taken Our Jobs, Thankfully
'The ten forked ends of each arm commenced a rattling pressing of the buttons.'
Puls 'Smart Watch' Replaces Your Cell Phone
Even before Dick Tracy, there were Ideas about this.
Small Molecule Walker Takes First Steps
'The bits were in motion.'
US Navy Laser Ready For Use
Fifty years from cartoon to reality.
Fast Lightweight Autonomy Indoor Drones For DARPA
'the Scarab buzzed into the great workroom... and sought the security of a shadowed corner.'
Ninebot One Self-Balancing Wheel
'It had been a long time since the Chief Engineer had ridden one of these silly-looking little vehicles...'
FuturICT Knowledge Accelerator And Psychohistory
'The reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories