In a future of fully autonomous vehicles, a controlled environment where all the major traffic is maintained by Artificial Intelligence (AI), a lot of people’s life will be made simpler and safer. How true is it? Currently autonomous vehicles are being researched by car manufacturers as well as programmers like Tesla which have researched up to 5 levels of autonomous. Level 5 being a fully automated car with AI controlling all the decisions made by the vehicle such as steering as well as lane switching, as well as simple AI aid from earlier levels 1, 2, and 3 which are lane assistance, cruise control, and self-parking.
Advantages of Autonomous Cars
The advantage of autonomous vehicle that relate to moral analysis is human safety and welfare. AI calculation is a step up in contrast to human. The most prevalent difference of the two is the human aspect where humans can always make mistake while AI stick to its programming. This bring forth the issue of human error.
Human error is one of major cause road accident and human error contributes to more than 90% of this statistic. Human error includes distraction during driving, drunk driving, speeding, and lack of sleep. In the sense of distraction on the road, a lot of drivers tend to lose their focus due to the infotainment system installed in cars such as songs, video and movie or even the navigation system included in the vehicle. Drunk driving leads to slow reflection response causing the driver to have difficulty in analysing the situation and can lead to drowsiness while driving. Speeding kills, why? We have less control of the car and our analytical skill will diminish due to having less time for decision making.
Table 1. Number of fatalities caused by human error from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Based on table above, future autonomous vehicle can save 37872 lives from traffic accidents, caused by human error. We mentioned the AI fully control the traffic and the vehicle. With the principal of utility, we take full advantage of the AI intervention to eliminate human error. This also agrees to the Kant theory where all rules and regulations of road traffic will be fully followed by car users as these have been programmed into AI.
Currently, there are an estimated 1.9 million licensed disabled drivers in the UK, and around 400,000 adapted vehicles in the UK. With a level 5 autonomous vehicle, even visual individuals can operate a car, where the person only need to place the address they want to go the vehicle will drive them to the place. Isn’t it amazing?
Moreover, with utilitarianism ethic, if everyone chooses autonomous vehicle, where all vehicle will be integrated into a system, it will eliminate traffic congestion, reduce travel time which can increase productivity of road users. What is interesting with this notion is an optimization of energy utilisation for the vehicle.
Thus, all vehicle manufacturer, road user and government officials need to collaborate to make this vision a reality. Currently most of autonomous vehicle on sale is expensive, with the collaboration of government and vehicle manufacturers the price can be lowered as the research as well as manufacture is subsidised. This is a valid move as it will increase safety and well-being of everyone, not only drivers but also pedestrians.
Disadvantages of Autonomous Cars
Disadvantages of fully autonomous car can be divided into two main moral analysis which are, effects on driver supporting sector and public acceptance of this implementation.
At the moment drivers supporting sector is dominated by the taxi, bus and truck driver with total of 116 billion dollar wage annually. By implementation of level 5 autonomous car, this driver supporting sectors will lose their source of income thus disturbing the community economy as well as global economy. This technology contradicts the utilitarianism ethical concept since the unhappiness or in this term, loss to the driver supporting sector outweigh the happiness or in this term, profit to the company. The loss of income will hinder the happiness to the whole taxi drivers regardless of the happiness still occur to the taxi company in term of profit. This situation also contradicts the freedom principle where freedom principle states that “everyone is free to do anything as long as they do not deny or hinder others’ happiness or pleasure”. Law and policy making can minimise the impact to the taxi driver income loss, but complete elimination of income loss is unavoidable.
Public acceptance is long debated issue in this technological world nowadays. Since fully autonomous car is monitored completely by Artificial Intelligence (AI), ethical reasoning and decision making is very different from what human will do. Survey have done by the MIT to identify the possible AI decisions output for certain situations. Good virtue ethics centres on the person and what it means to be human. Virtue ethics neglection can be seen by the implementation of level 5 autonomous car as AI will not behave as what it means to be human e.g. trolley problem. For example, if you are in a situation where you are on the bridge with a big guy, beneath the bridge there is train track with five people tied into it. The only way you to stop the train from killing those five people is by push the big guy to fall into the track since he is large enough to stop the train but will kill him in the process. Will you push him? Most will choose to not to push him due to ethical reasoning and common sense. Fortunately, or unfortunately, an AI will calculate the possibility and the tendency to sacrifice one human instead of five. Some decisions are best left to human reasoning instead of computational analysis. A lot of research and testing is needed to ensure this solution is perfect without any flaws.