[ExI] Do robot cars need ethics as well?

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Sat Dec 1 18:00:07 UTC 2012

Anders wrote: "The car is not doing any real ethics in the sense of reflecting over its behaviour and choosing what principles it ought to follow, so it is by no means a moral agent in the strong sense of the word used by Kantians." 

Well, last time I was in an emergency situation (an old lady fell over and damaged her hip in our local community centre) I was not thinking ethically. I was thinking "CRAP! AN ACCIDENT ON MY WATCH! WHERE'S A FIRST AIDER? SHOULD I CALL AN AMBULANCE? AAAGH!" Luckily, a few feet away from me there was a lady who happened to be a nurse at the local hospital who responded calmly and after checking the old lady she asked someone to call an ambulance and someone to fetch something to rest her head on. My colleague called the ambulance while I fetched a cushion.

Does my autonomic system's tendency to drive me to panic make me a less ethical person than someone who is calmer? Is a computerised car, free from an evolved adrenaline-based sytem, in a much better situation to make decisions in a car-based emergency than me? Just how much information can the car gather in the hundredths of a second it has to think before it needs to act?

Anders also wrote: " But they might show other morally relevant behaviours (largely due to design, of course) like politeness in traffic or helping."
 Well, humans with little ethical thinking might show morally relevant behaviours like politeness if there were laws enacted to enforce them. In the Netherlands, there are traffic systems where you have to give way to joining traffic, and the "zipper" system where you have to let someone in from the left, and later on let in someone from the right, sounded very complex to me but it seems to work there. All developed countries have quite complex laws regarding roads and behaviour on them, perhaps the development of computerised cars will encourage lawmakers to rationalise the rules or to formalise some things which haven't been set down yet.


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