Autonomous cars – the road to the future? [1/2]

Photography by Josh Rawlinson -

In an ideal world, in order to get from A to B, the average human being wouldn’t have to grapple with the mysterious ways of clutch control, or learn how to (quite literally) get to grips with the fury of a gearbox. This dream of driving a car without actually having to drive a car is becoming realised, and sooner than you’d think.

The leading arguments from the companies investing in this innovative move is that autonomous cars will actually enhance road safety; removing the chance of human error through scientific means. Whilst, in theory, this sounds both plausible and logical, there are several ethical and social issues that are worth considering: Will making autonomous cars commonly available be a step further down a slippery slope towards mechanising the majority of human life? If we remove the educational element from driving, will road-users lack a basic understanding of safety and awareness?

Studies carried out by the American Automobile Association have revealed that 75 percent of drivers are afraid to get into a driverless car, with 80 percent saying they don’t actually trust autonomous cars as a concept. However, with more and more car features becoming functional without human control (GPS systems, reverse sensors, etc), the public are gradually becoming increasingly comfortable being in a car that isn’t entirely under their control. This element of control is integral to the ethical issues of autonomous cars, as an automated driving feature would remove the driver’s opportunity to make informed decisions. The ‘MIT Technology Review’, in its discussion on the moral concerns of vehicles with artificial intelligence, offers the following dilemma: ‘one day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do?’.

This clearly illustrates the moral and ethical issue with making autonomous cars available for public use. A machine, although being incredibly accurate in terms of following programming and algorithms, cannot make morally informed decisions like a human being can. And thus, in certain contexts, an autonomous car may not be able to make utilitarian choices, and therefore falls short in comparison to human autonomy. So, whilst autonomous cars are predicted to start filtering into society within the next decade, it’s important to bear in mind the extent to which the mechanisation of every day life strips away what it is to be human.

Mentioned today in Headcandy:

Forbes, ‘How driverless cars will take over hearts and minds’:…/how-driverless-cars-will-take-over-roads-hearts-and-minds.

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