Published in Transportation

Mercedes self-driving car decides drivers more important than pedestrians

by on17 October 2016


There is no laying down your life for anyone

Carmaker Mercedes-Benz has decided that if it comes to a choice between drivers and pedestrians it will choose the side which paid rather a lot of money for one of its products.

The outfit said that when it starts selling self-driving cars, it will choose to prioritise driver safety over pedestrians.

For a while now there has been an ethical conundrum of how A.I.-powered machines should act in life-or-death situations. The official line is that Mercedes-Benz believes that it’s safer to save the life you have greater control over.

Christoph von Hugo, Mercedes’s manager of driver assistance systems told Car and Driver magazine that:
“You could sacrifice the car. You could, but then the people you’ve saved initially, you don’t know what happens to them after that in situations that are often very complex, so you save the ones you know you can save. If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car.”

He thinks that the issue will become moot anyway as computer-driven cars can react in ways that human drivers will not be able to handle. Besides, most of the time the car will prioritize not crashing in the first place.

“This moral question of whom to save: 99 percent of our engineering work is to prevent these situations from happening at all. We are working so our cars don’t drive into situations where that could happen and will drive away from potential situations where those decisions have to be made.”

Of course the cynic would say that from Mercedes’s point of view, the car driver wrote a cheque for its product and is likely to have huge amounts of cash. The likely “poor person” crossing the road has no contract with the company and therefore is, from the company’s point of view, expendable.

Of course that is not what it is saying and it is unclear if government safety regulators will let the car manufacturers get away with anything that smacks of that particular logic.

Germany has outlined three rules that it expects manufacturers to abide by: property damage always takes precedence over personal injury, the car cannot classify people based on age and other attributes, and the manufacturer is always liable. As these rules are fleshed out, German officials could be forced to clarify whether manufacturers are allowed to prioritize the driver.

Last modified on 24 April 2018
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