Autonomous Vehicles Will Decide Who Gets Killed

In a not too distant future, you may be riding in an autonomous vehicle that is forced to decide between running over a pedestrian or a bicyclist.  Or whether to crash into a tree or another automobile.  It may make a decision you are not particularly happy with.  These decisions will rely on “artificial intelligence” built into these cars.  These decisions are being programmed right now by developers of autonomous vehicles.  Want to know under what conditions you might be converted into road kill?  Read on.

In Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book “I, Robot” (1950), he introduced the Three Laws of Robotics.  The three laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

These are a pretty good start, but we all known how it turned out for Will Smith on the recent movie version.  We also know how it turned out for 49 year old Elaine Herzberg, who has the unfortunate distinction of being the first pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle.

The German government has already developed 20 rules for autonomous vehicles.  Here in the US at MIT, the Moral Machine experiment explored what actual humans would choose under certain circumstances, and these chooses are being used to develop rules for cars.  You can still click through and participate with the study if you wish.  I clicked over to the survey, and I found the selections were not easy or particularly attractive.  What we are learning, though, is that different cultures have different values when it comes to saving human lives.  So coming up with a “universal” solution will be difficult, but these issues and many others will need to be resolved before autonomous travel can enter the mainstream.


About the Author:

Cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. Owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, Bob also conducts security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Bob also teaches Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. Bob works as an instruction for CompTIA’s non-profit IT-Ready Program in the Twin Cities. IT-Ready is a tuition free 8-week program designed to teach students of all ages the fundamentals of IT support to prepare them for an entry level position in Information Technology Support. Graduates of the classes take the exams to become CompTIA A+ certified. Bob is a frequent speaker at conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. Bob has been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

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