An anonymous reader writes "Patrick Lin of California Polytechnic State University explores one of the ethical problems autonomous car developers are going to have to solve: crash prioritization. He posits this scenario: suppose an autonomous car determines a crash is unavoidable, but has the option of swerving right into a small car with few safety features or swerving left into a heavier car that's more structurally sound. Do the people programming the car have it intentionally crash into the vehicle less likely to crumple? It might make more sense, and lead to fewer fatalities — but it sure wouldn't feel that way to the people in the car that got hit. He says, '[W]hile human drivers may be forgiven for making a poor split-second reaction – for instance, crashing into a Pinto that's prone to explode, instead of a more stable object – robot cars won't enjoy that freedom. Programmers have all the time in the world to get it right. It's the difference between premeditated murder and involuntary manslaughter.' We could somewhat randomize outcomes, but that would lead to generate just as much trouble. Lin adds, 'The larger challenge, though, isn't thinking through ethical dilemmas. It's also about setting accurate expectations with users and the general public who might find themselves surprised in bad ways by autonomous cars. Whatever answer to an ethical dilemma the car industry might lean towards will not be satisfying to everyone.'"
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