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Driverless cars: Once they're on the road, we'll have to take the human drivers off

Robot drivers will not exceed the speed limit, will not flash their lights and will not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They will never tire or act aggressively. They will not be distracted by changing the music or sending a text, and they will never try to impress their friends

By: Jonathan Weber, Professor of Philosophy, Cardiff University, United Kingdom, Translation: Avi Blizovsky

Order "Robotaxi" - a robotic taxi. Illustration: shutterstock
Order "Robotaxi" - a robotic taxi. Illustration: shutterstock

Driverless cars can revolutionize people's lives. By the end of the next decade, or maybe even sooner, they will change the face of public space and free us from many problems associated with owning a car. They will also drive better than human drivers.
Robot drivers will not exceed the speed limit, will not flash their lights and will not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They will never tire or act aggressively. They will not be distracted by changing the music or sending a text, and they will never try to impress their friends.

Driverless cars can also change the face of public spaces. Private cars are expensive items and do nothing 95% of the time. Today their maintenance is economically justified only because taxi drivers are paid more. Once cars don't need human drivers, the balance between costs will change and thus the preference for autonomous taxis will increase.

Imagine what your city could look like with autonomous taxis instead of private cars? Most of the area occupied by parking lots can be used for houses, offices, cafes, bars, cinemas, hotels, swimming pools. Without cars parked on the sides of the street, we will feel like after removing cholesterol from the blood vessels - we will be able to travel faster on buses, and the sidewalks will be wider.
When excess space is created and the roads will be safer, active transportation will also be more attractive. More and more people will ride bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades and scooters. A driverless taxi can easily return to the garage and recharge itself.
The benefits to public health will be enormous. Our cities and neighborhoods will be much more pleasant places to live and breathe. The contribution of transportation to climate change will be dramatically reduced. But securing all these benefits requires meeting difficult challenges.

Dealing with emergency situations

Ethical concern about autonomous vehicles has so far focused on emergencies. Should a car save its passengers at the cost of killing or injuring other people? Does she have to swerve to avoid running over someone on the road even if it means running over someone on the sidewalk? How many people need to be saved to decide situations where saving the lives of several people on the road is against the death of a single passerby on the sidewalk? Are children more important than adults? And so on.

The problem is similar to philosopher Philippa Pott's most famous moral experiments: the carriage problem. Imagine you are driving a wagon. His brakes failed and he could have killed five people. You can drive the wagon onto the side track, killing one person who wouldn't have been hurt otherwise. The question is, should you do it?

Philosophers who have debated this question have created an array of variations. What if you are standing at the track next to someone carrying a very large backpack? Do you have to push the tourist under the train to save the lives of five people? If you can only stop the train at the cost of your life, should you do it? and so on and so on.

Intuitive responses to these variations tend to appear contradictory. But we learn more about our moral thinking by exploring how it might be consistent. And we learn more about moral cognition by scanning people's brains as they view these issues.

Autonomous cars have added a new dimension to this discussion. We need to teach these vehicles how to handle emergency situations - the caravan's problem has simply become reality. At least that's what many philosophers think. But by focusing on an existing thought experiment, they missed the big picture.

The real ethical challenge

Engineers working on autonomous cars say the safest response in any emergency is to stop. It would be even safer if all the nearby cars were driven by robots. Robot drivers will be better than flesh and blood drivers and will reduce the number of emergency cases on the roads regardless of the authorities' decision.
Given all the potential benefits to public health and quality of life, we should allow robots to take over driving. This is what raises the real ethical challenge of autonomous cars. Once the robot drivers are safe enough to allow them to hit the road in large numbers, it seems we will have to maximize their benefits by banning humans from driving the roads.
There will be resistance to this, of course. Many people like to drive. However, many people also like to smoke, yet smoking is prohibited in public areas to protect non-smokers. In the same way, it will be possible to leave defined and safe spaces for the driving enthusiasts without endangering the rest of the people.
The issue of car ownership is another difficulty. There is strong evidence for the need for the basic transport infrastructure to be publicly owned and if it is impossible to buy private cars, perhaps the use of robot taxis should be relative to the ability to pay?

But no matter how we solve the practical issues, it seems that the huge safety benefits of autonomous taxis will lead us to take every other type of car off the road.

to the article on The Conversation website

More of the topic in Hayadan:

Will autonomous cars coexist with human-driven cars at the same time?

The autonomous vehicle revolution will change the face of the roads"

Preventing road accidents of autonomous cars: artificial intelligence will not be enough - it also needs to learn

24 תגובות

  1. Even at the beginning of the last century there were fortune-telling contracts that talked about the problem of removing horse manure that dragged carriages and carts from the streets, we all see that the fortune-telling did not predict correctly.
    There is no technical ability to maintain what is needed for an autonomous car and therefore there will be no such arrangement.
    What will?
    We will all be surprised by what will really happen.

  2. The point from which the author of the article comes out, as if robotic cars will save owning a car is wrong, people need autonomy and do not want to be dependent on others and in times of stress there will always be a shortage of vehicles and therefore the world that the author of the article paints will not be.

  3. It is possible that the autonomous cars will actually increase the pollution and the traffic jams, since the circle of passengers will be joined by the school students who now ride the bus and it will be possible to order a private car to drive them. Those who travel by public transport will also join because they do not have a parking space and will now be able to use an autonomous car.

  4. A free man: It is not enough to "make fewer accidents on average than human driving" which is a statistical figure, you also need to give answers to questions about concrete situations. How to minimize the damage in case of an unavoidable accident. For example, if a huge truck is going to hit you at a speed of 150 km/h and your only escape is by swerving onto one sidewalk, on which three children are walking, and onto the other sidewalk, on which eight old men are walking. The statistically preferred solution is to do nothing and the accident will end in one fatality (assuming there are no other passengers in the car) but I would buy a less "moral" car.

  5. Mark
    If all vehicles are autonomous, there will be no traffic jams and no traffic lights.
    Also, the car will be able to travel at maximum speed within its safety limits, which are much higher than a human driver.
    The main reasons are that not only does the computer process the road conditions much faster than a human driver, but it also receives information from other vehicles on the road, and can plan its journey based on data from vehicles far down the road.

  6. An important figure was not taken into account.. A human driver drives faster and saves road time.. If everyone crawls, the traffic jams will be our lot

  7. If today they are not able to paint the stripes on the road in time, do you believe that in the future they will be able to both paint the stripes and maintain everything necessary so that there will be no accidents?
    I do not believe.

  8. Israeli drivers and autonomous vehicles will never be integrated on the road. He will surely have an accident on the way or stop

  9. I think the writer drank a little too much before writing. Nothing can replace man, not a computer, not a robot, not the Wizard of Oz.
    Computers that control so many systems are failing and they are also failing me in general and the fear is in the middle of a trip.... What will you do then? What will you do when his processor heats up or there is a short in the system??? How will you brake? How will you navigate???

  10. free man
    I agree with you. The best situation is to have only autonomous vehicles, and preferably no pedestrians either.

    Those who are afraid of this should pay attention to the following detail: in fighter planes and passenger planes - the pilot is not the one who moves the steering surfaces! The pilot (if he is "flying") gives instructions to the steering computer, and this computer decides based on environmental conditions, safety limits, the aircraft's characteristics and the pilot's requirements - how to move the surfaces. In a civil flight - most of the flight is autonomous and the pilots read a newspaper...

  11. Thanks for bringing the article. By the way, the discussion is theoretical, obviously in practice it will happen. See autonomous shuttles on campuses. The more it pays off financially, the more it will progress, regulation will not save us, life will take us there.

  12. The comparison to a moral case is not relevant in the case of an autonomous car.
    Such a car has no moral decision and in general we do not understand its decision at all.
    The system that drives it does so using many different computers and some of them are driven by what is erroneously called 'artificial intelligence'. which is actually a learning software that we know how to test but do not understand how it makes decisions.
    All that is required of the autonomous car is to cause fewer accidents on average than a human driver. There is no morality in this. Only large numbers calculus.
    In any case, a true autonomous car is still many years away from us. The industry will say that at least a decade, but in my opinion as someone who deals in the field, much longer.

  13. Father - I recently learned that you excel in "ad hominem" arguments. When will you stop being offended and try to think of counterarguments? Can really help raise the level of the site, and the general interest. Or are you advocating an approach that doesn't suit you?
    In any case, you don't get credit points.

  14. Autonomous cars will save human lives, there is no doubt about that. But the conclusion that most people will give up a private car indicates the writer's lack of understanding of the system of economic incentives that motivates people. (For the knowledge of the site - I have a scoop, the economics faculties have been dealing with this for decades with good success). Today there are hundreds of thousands of public cars (taxis), millions of buses and train cars, and people do not give up their private cars. On the contrary ! As far as I understand, a resilient family will purchase several autonomous vehicles for the purpose of transporting children separately to schools, places of work and entertainment. The autonomous car is a welcome technology, but it will not lead to a utopian world.

  15. It is worthwhile to take care in advance that all autonomous cars will be electric and take advantage of the autonomous need to reduce air pollution

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