Your driverless car will probably be designed to kill you

Jack Blog

December 11th, 2014 By Caspar Mason

Creating cutting-edge brand experiences means rethinking the relationship between people and technology on an almost monthly basis. And as technology becomes more self-directed, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to wonder what this means for that relationship…and at times, our own safety.

The news that driverless cars are arriving on the British streets in 2015 reminded me of an interesting piece by Jan Chipchase on ‘Concepts in Autonomous Mobility’ – aka what are the implications for you when your car can drive itself.

(If you don’t know the aptly-named Mr Chipchase, he’s a “global design anthropologist” who’s made his reputation searching for emerging tech uses in far-flung corners of the earth. Not for nothing has he been called Indiana Phones)

driverless car

The thoughts are pretty cool. Finding a parking space could be a thing of the past, as your robo-car (mobot? 4-wheel droid?) can just drop you off. In fact, wouldn’t it be cool if it could pick up some groceries for you? What about going to refuel/recharge? Fantastic.

But you might experience what he calls car surprise – the moment when your own car passes you, off on some errand. He even suggests an algorithm to ensure this doesn’t happen, so as to avoid a mildly awkward meeting with your car.

So your car might be programmed to avoid you, its owner. So far, so quirky. But when you think about it some more, things get a bit more serious…

You’re in your car, on a fast section of road. You’re texting…but that’s fine, because driverless. Another car knocks you off course (human error, obviously) and you’re suddenly hurtling towards a collision with a school group. Go straight ahead and (at best) children will get badly hurt. Swerve, and you’ll hit a concrete wall at terminal velocity.

What will it be? And who will decide?

As Robot Ethicist Jason Millar has pointed out, the car will likely have been programmed to make an ethical decision about whether to swerve or go straight. And if the guidance is anything other than ‘protect the driver at all costs’, that means your shiny new car – the one you’re constantly dropping into conversation and buffing for imaginary specks of dirt – that car will have a plan to kill you lurking silently within its printed circuit boards. Which, let’s face it, is unlikely to go on the spec sheet.

(credit: Steve Pell)

(credit: Steve Pell)

There’s no right or wrong to this new kind of ethical dilemma. So in the absence of a correct answer: I, for one, welcome our new vehicular overlords (©Kent Brockman).