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Your Car May Be Programmed to Kill You — and 9 More Facts About Self-Driving Vehicles

When fully autonomous vehicles do arrive, they will alter our world in ways many people haven’t begun to imagine. They may even be forced to make life-and-death decisions. Here are 10 ways they will change your life: 1. Your car might be programmed to kill you. We’ll get the biggest downside out of the way up front. In extremely rare circumstances, your car may be forced to confront what is known as “the trolley problem.” Or, for Star Trek fans, a Kobayashi Maru scenario. This is the trolley problem: Five people have been tied to a track and there’s a trolley bearing down on them. By flipping a lever, you can divert the trolley to a parallel track where a single person is standing. So your choices are to do nothing and kill five people or take action and kill just one. Substitute an autonomous car for the trolley, and you have a decision a driverless car might theoretically face. Unlike Captain Kirk, you won’t be able to reprogram the scenario to engineer a winning outcome. In fact, the car’s software would be programmed to minimize the damage. But how? Should it minimize danger to the owner of the car, possibly sacrificing the occupants of another vehicle? Or should it seek the lowest number of injuries, even if it means killing you? That is a real question with no easy answer, says Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University. The only workable approach is for manufacturers to make these programming decisions transparent, so consumers will have realistic expectations and can decide if it’s worth the risks, he says. “It’s one thing for a human to steer her car off a cliff and quite another thing for a machine to make that choice,” Lin says. “It’s also one thing for pedestrians to be struck by a car whose driver made a bad reflexive decision and quite another thing for them to be struck because the robot car was programmed deliberately to target them or put them at greater risk. Setting expectations can help with some of this, but probably not all.” 9 more via Yahoo Tech.

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