Did The Car Make Me Do It?

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(Did the car make me do it? This is a personal opinion. Expressing it was provoked by, in the writer’s opinion, a misuse or misunderstanding of the meaning and use of the word, “ethical.”)

A fairly recent article in Automotive News asserts that autonomous cars make ethical decisions. If a connected car can make better and faster decisions, isn’t it a niggling quibble to say it isn’t capable of ethical decisions?

Nonsense. Ascribing moral agency to a motor vehicle is an  anthropomorphic projection that abdicates human responsibility. Or it may be sophistry promoting acceptance of self-driving cars by suggesting they are or can be equipped to choose between good and bad.

It is the driver who makes the ethical decision to cede responsibility to the connected car and its programmers. Granted, increasingly sophisticated computers can absorb relevant data and calculate relative outcomes more quickly as compared to a human behind the wheel but, faced with a choice of evils, will a car choose to sacrifice itself and its passengers?

Will it take in to consideration who and how many passengers are in the car and their relative worth as compared to a gaggle of school children alongside the road or doddering old folks on the other side?

Regardless of the outcome in that situation would the defense be, “the car made me do it.” Let us hope not. An example that comes to mind are concentration camp guards and commandants’ excuse that they were “just following orders.” Or, more currently, ISIS beheadings in the name of Allah. Or, a recent headline in TU-Automotive: “Smart Services Could Shoulder The Burden of Thinking.”

The historic tendency of humans to give over their freedom (and responsibility) to outside agencies is no doubt a reason why Stephen Hawkings, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have all decried the oncoming of artificial intelligence and with it, the possibility of autonomous weapons searching for and engaging targets on their own. Or Google robots with AI that “learn” from humans and contexts and create their own version of reality.

As devices become more and more sophisticated and “learn” from each other there will be a concomitant incentive for humans to let AI rule. It won’t be “the devil made me do it” but “the algorithms decided.”