Millions of people have answered questions posed by MIT's 'Moral Machine', about the ethical decisions that driverless cars will have to make when they reach our roads - and the results don't look good for old folks.
In this grisly referendum on life and death, the real winners were the young and the sociable. Given various scenarios, users around the globe consistently told the driverless car to squish animals and the elderly, and to spare the lives of people in groups and children.
For human drivers, our weak reactions mean these kind of calculations are purely theoretical. You may think you'd swerve into a dog to save a baby, but the split second you'd have to make the call would likely be insufficient to assess the species of canine - or the moral, legal or socioeconomic background of the persons involved that MIT asks about - let alone consider what to do about it. Driverless cars, on the other hand, can be programmed to make these calls in advance.
Although the results broadly followed the same trends around the world, there were some interesting regional differences. People in China and Japan, for example, were less inclined to spare the young over the old, and they also cared less about saving the lives of those with lots of money compared to their European and North American counterparts (for the record, your V3 team's results showed that we put a high value on people with important office jobs, like journalists).
It's a squeamish topic and companies manufacturing self-driving technology don't really want to talk about it, for the same reason that beer companies don't spend much time discussing liver health. Still, the researchers feel that this kind of collective discussion should be used to help form the basis of driverless cars' moral core.
Of course, such cold, clinical lab conditions seldom occur on real roads, where things get a little bit messy. Swerving one way or another could result in a slower speed of impact, and therefore less chance of death for anybody no matter their age.
Still, if you want to put your own brain through the 21st-century remix of the Trolley Problem, you can still do so here.
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