Driverless technology has become a new trend in the development of automobiles. Many automobile companies are competing for the market for driverless cars. It seems that it is getting closer and closer to us. However, what is the social acceptance of driverless cars and what are the ethical issues facing them in engineering? Who will be responsible for accidents caused by driverless cars? What impact will it have on society? All these are worth our consideration and discussion.
Safer, more equal, more environmentally friendly
Safety is the biggest advantage of driverless cars. The safety of driverless technology is far greater than that of manual driving. As can be seen from table 1, more than 40% of accidents are caused by operator’s mistakes, including drinking and fatigued driving. Self-driving technology fundamentally solves this problem, which means that popularization of self-driving technology can reduce traffic accidents by at least 40 percent. In the judgment of utilitarianism, this technology is of great value. In addition, according to Kant, anyone has the right to protect himself from harm unless he consciously and freely does something to be punished or chooses to take risks. The survey shows that after understanding the safety of driverless technology, the public has greater confidence in the popularity of driverless cars (According to a hit survey in Australia).
The popularity of self-driving technology has a high commercial and social value, which means that we need to set more norms for it. How can we set norms so that driverless cars technology can benefit human beings? This is the problem we have to face.
We also have to take into account that there are special groups of people in society who do not have the ability to drive cars, such as the elderly or disabled. The emergence of driverless cars gives people the same right to drive, which complies with the principle of Equality in Deontological (duty-based) ethics. Based on Kantian Theory which advocates equal concern and respect. For a large number of people, driving is a challenging and difficult thing. Driverless cars would be no need for drivers’ licenses or driving tests. Quality of life improvements for the special group if they have access to driverless cars. Disabled people and older citizens, as well as the very young, would be able to experience the freedom of car travel. To make most people enjoy driving, driverless cars need to be more perfect in functions to meet the needs of a wider range of people, which is a problem worth considering by product developers. Self-driving cars will improve driving efficiency in all aspects. The systems of driverless cars can be optimized in acceleration and braking to ensure fuel consumption is as efficient as possible. Therefore, autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Moreover, fewer traffic congestions can also save fuel and reduce greenhouse gases from needless idling. The Future of Driving report from Ohio University states: “Driverless technology is expected to reduce emissions by 60%.”
Although driverless driving can bring many benefits (safer, more efficient,etc.), maintaining the stable functioning of the social system is far more important than improving productivity in the current social structure and productivity levels. Last year, in Arizona, Uber’s self-driving car carcollided with a pedestrian crossing the road, causing pedestrian death. The first accidental death of a driverless driver triggered public concerns and doubts about the technology of driverless driving.
The current discussion about the ethical dilemma of autonomous vehicles is mainly related to the famous “tram puzzle” in moral philosophy. “Tram problem” is a famous thought experiment proposed by the philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967 for criticizing utilitarianism. In the next few decades, moral philosophers have developed a number of variants. And if an automated vehicle is also facing an unavoidable traffic accident, who will the AI system choose to crash into? Should the “moral algorithm” of self-driving cars be based on the principle of reducing death or protecting the owner? This poses an ethical challenge to the algorithm of automated vehicles. Faced with this ethical dilemma, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab launched a website called “Ethical Machines” to collect data on situational choices for the public in the form of questionnaires. This moral machine has collected 11 million scenes answers. The MIT team pointed out that participants from the western region of the United States pay more attention to reducing the number of casualties value, that is, compared to the east, they agree more utilitarian choice. This means that the setting of “moral algorithms” must also consider the influence of moral-cultural pluralism.
For romantics, driving doesn’t just mean taking control of a mechanical tool. They insist that driving brings freedom, power and even creativity.when you hold the steering wheel, you think you can go anywhere in the world.They fall in love with the pleasure of operating a car.
Driving is also something that can be emotional, on a wedding or a funeral. “Who would send a loved one on their last journey by lonely, driverless hearse?”
But now they believe that self-driving cars threaten the fun of driving and eliminates the original car experience.
Kant’s Theory/deontology allows us to look at this change from our own point of view, I don’t drive, but I worry that in the future, our children will no longer appreciate the wildness and grandeur of the racing race, and when they get used to setting their destinations before getting on the car, they also lose peaceful and quiet time of a man driving a car, loitering aimlessly. Also, as virtue ethics states that people should be encouraged to develop good or desirable characteristics. Don’t we need to take care of the nostalgia of a large number of consumers?
The problems faced by driverless technology, although likely to slow the development of autonomous vehicles, we still believe that autonomous cars will be accepted by people in the next three decades.