From Toyota to Mercedes Benz; Nissan to BMW, almost every major automaker in the world is betting big on self-driving car technology. So, it’s only a matter of when rather than self-driving cars will start hitting roads around the world. Now, with regard to self-driving cars Mercedes Benz has made a crucial decision that could startle you.
What’s Mercedes saying?
If ever faced with a situation when a Mercedes self-driving car has to choose between the car passenger and a pedestrian, the automobile of the future will choose to save the lives of its passengers. However, this doesn’t mean that self-driving Mercedes Benzs will go about bumping off unwitting pedestrians. Quite the opposite, Mercedes self-driving cars will try their level best to avoid any form of contact with pedestrians.
So, when will a Mercedes Benz self-driving car choose to protect a passenger rather than the pedestrian?
Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. Suppose the Mercedes Benz self driving car loaded with five passengers is travelling at a high speed when a pedestrian suddenly pops out of nowhere, straight into its path. The complex computer programs that govern the self-driving car indicate to it that braking or changing direction to avoid the pedestrian could lead to a fatal crash, endangering the lives of the all passengers on board.
In such a situation, the car will treat the pedestrian as dispensable, choosing to protect the passengers rather than the pedestrian. Essentially, the car is choosing to save five lives rather than one. As this decision making process indicates, even self-driving have their limitations. They are likely to make roads safer by eliminating bad drivers but may still cause unavoidable deaths.
Here’s what Mercedes Benz’s Christoph von Hugo has to say about this:
If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one, save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority. 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. So you save the ones you know you can save.
Mr. von Hugo is essentially indicating to future buyers of self-driving cars that their lives will carry first priority for the car. Well, most if not buyers will certainly want this. They’ll want their cars to protect them first rather than unknown pedestrians if such a situation arises. As we get closer to self-driving cars becoming a reality, many more similar ethical dilemmas are likely to arise. Surely, this isn’t the last we’re going to hear about this subject.