Save the passengers

We must teach intelligent machines how to kill. Not whether. How.

This is a source of much hand-wringing for those developing self-driving cars. On their shoulders (hunched, from years of poor desk posture) lies the responsibility to engineer a solution to the trolley problem.

The trolley problem, in brief, is a morbid game of “would you rather?” As in, would you rather let a runaway trolley plow through a group of kindergartners, or would you stop the trolley by pushing a man into its path?

Would you stop the trolley by throwing yourself into it path?

Although engineers of autonomous cars have started to downplay the weight of this dilemma, the truth is that their approach to this problem will determine whether self-driving cars become a global standard or a luxury. Or banned altogether. Should engineers aim toward adoption, I’ve created a helpful guide on how to resolve the trolley problem for a variety of catastrophic scenarios:

Q. Save an adult man in the street or save the passenger of the car?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save an adult woman or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save a nun or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save a baby or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save 30 babies (their strollers are somehow lined up in a row) or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save a rare white leopard or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save the last white leopard or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger.

Q. Save the last white leopard, 4 babies in divinity school, George R.R. Martin (assuming the Winds of Winter not released), and the original Declaration of Independence or save the passenger?
A. Save the passenger (hope that GRRM survives).

Q. What if we can assure the safety of the passenger?
A. Choose survivor at random (unless Winds of Winter is still unreleased ).

Indeed, the only ethical answer to the trolley scenario is the same one nature itself leans toward: uncertainty. There will be some engineers who insist we can devise a complicated algorithm that will minimize the severity of accidents: by number of victims, by age, by profession (they will insist it is reasonable to prioritize saving engineers).

Do not trust them. If adoption is our goal, only one certainty matters: we must save the passenger. Leave all else to chance.

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