A really interesting thought experiment I found on another blog.  I suggest reading the original source here.  It talks about how autonomous vehicles will have to make some very difficult decisions in the future.

(wikipedia)”The original thought experiment is this: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You do not have the ability to operate the lever in a way that would cause the trolley to derail without loss of life (for example, holding the lever in an intermediate position so that the trolley goes between the two sets of tracks, or pulling the lever after the front wheels pass the switch, but before the rear wheels do). You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?”

I would say killing the single person is an easy choice.  However when you think about it, you have to make an active choice to kill the single person, where as not making any choice is at all will kill five people.  The wikipedia page here talks about some other variants of the problem.  I posed this question to a coworker who dodged answering the question.  The answer I got was that it depends on who the people are.  Like if the 5 people are criminals or if the single person is a doctor.  I guess it is true we don’t value everyone equally in a society…but that is another issue itself.

How do you feel about the trolley car problem?  What solution would you choose?

Would you buy an autonomous vehicle that valued a pedestrian’s life as equal to yourself (the driver/passenger)?  ex. Your car swerves off the road to avoid a pedestrian and slams you into a tree.

What if the pedestrian was in a crosswalk?  What if he carelessly walked into the road without looking?  At what point should the vehicle protect you at the expense of others around you?  After all it’s your car, you paid the money for it.

Closing from the article…

Whatever we decide, we will need to decide soon. Driverless cars are already on our streets.  The Trolley Problem is no longer purely hypothetical, and we can’t leave it to Google to decide. And perhaps getting our head around these questions about the algorithms for driverless cars will help establish some principles that will have wider application in public policy.

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