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Engineer Ethical Dilemma: Will Robocars Decide Who to Hit and Kill?


Driverless vehicles will be ubiquitous on Florida’s roadways in a few years’ time. The engineers who have created these cars have all faced moral and ethical issues along the way. One common issue is the “trolley problem.” This involves creating “decider” software that will determine who to kill when faced with a real-world dilemma. For example, a runaway trolley approaches a switch between two tracks. The current track has five people on it, but a switch can divert the trolley to a track with just one person.

There are several issues with this problem. First of all, it is not a real problem. Fatalities happen every 80 million miles, so if this issue were to ever happen in real life, it would be an extremely rare occurrence. Secondly, if this issue were to ever occur, the law would dictate which vehicle should go and which one would yield. A programmer cannot ethically choose to kill one person and break the law in the process. Also, this issue would never occur in the first place. A robocar should be safe enough that it would never be forced to hit something or someone. It would be programmed to drive at safe speeds. Plus, the brakes would not have any issues and be forced into a runaway situation in the first place.

Safety is Key

Robocar engineers do not have to worry about the runaway trolley problem because with safety in mind, they should have all components of the vehicle extremely safe in the first place. These cars have two braking systems in place, so if one does not work, the other should. Both systems are tested hundreds of times of day, so it would be extremely rare for both to not work. Even if the computer system fails, it will not be forced to make any decisions on who to kill.

While positive thinking is a good idea, it is also helpful to assume that multiple components will fail at some point. Therefore, it is important to design robocars with this thinking in mind so that when one component fails, it isn’t catastrophic. A good robocar should be constantly monitoring all components in the car. If problems do occur, the car would be programmed to drive itself to a service center to get repaired. With this technology in place, breakdowns should hardly ever occur. With vehicles driven more reliably, issues should occur on a less frequent basis.

Keep Your License with Help From a Tampa Professional Engineers Licensing Lawyer

With autonomous vehicles becoming the wave of the future, engineers face many ethical dilemmas. How will these cars avoid accidents? What will happen when they are faced with hazards on the roadways?

Engineers have an obligation to keep the public safe. If you have been accused of acting in an unethical manner, the Law Offices of David P. Rankin, P.A. can help you with your case. He is knowledgeable of the administrative issues that licensed professional face and has represented over 100 professional engineers before the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Schedule a consultation by filling out the online form or calling (813) 748-7108.