Ethical Implications of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles will one day become the normal way to travel. However, there are still plenty of ethical issues and dangers this new technology holds. It is easy to forget about the impacts technology has on society because everything is innovative and exciting. Nevertheless, the ethical implications must be discussed in order to avoid potential accidents or tragedies. The possible dangers might include the likelihood of a hacking or if the vehicle does not make a decision fast enough. Some of the ethical effects can be what kind of decisions should be made in certain situations and if programmers should have transparency with consumers, so they know exactly what the autonomous vehicle entails.

These cars rely on machine learning in order to evaluate situations and make a decision. The computer is simply not given a set of rules to follow. Instead, it is fed images of objects – for example, a pedestrian, a ball, another vehicle, etc. – and tries to guess what that object is. In the beginning, it will guess wrong. However, as time goes on, the program adjusts itself, and continues to try as more information it is given, it begins to learn what is what with the help from the cars sensors. If there is unidentified object in the road, the car should reduce speed or stop altogether. Another way for the vehicle to learn is by feeding it certain traffic information and the programmer would say the right way to get out of it. The algorithm will learn from that, along with other aspects of a situation, and determine the correct way to get out of it. One of the main issues is how fast these computers will be able to make decisions. While humans drive, it takes a split second to make a mistake and terrible things could happen or it takes just as long to avoid that. Most people have good reflexes and are able to avoid a tragedy. Autonomous vehicles must have that same ability to avoid accidents. Machine learning and quantum computing must work together in order to allow those cars to make effective and quick decisions. The programmer must teach the computer the basic rules of the road and allow the machine to learn impactful and successful ways to avoid accidents.

Another issue that stems from autonomous vehicles is the possibility of someone hacking the program of one. Skilled hackers are able to break into almost anything, so how is a vehicle any different? Software and algorithms will power them, which can be susceptible to malicious people who have the intent to harm others. It might not be a trend now, however, as this technology becomes more normalized, anything is possible. Car and technology companies claim that the consumers will be safe from hacking, however, it would be in the best interest of the consumer to not take their word. Some in the industry have waited to announce a recall until it became cheaper than paying the wrongful death lawsuits. It would take enough steps in the right direction for car and technology companies to act in an ethical manner. It would be best to not trust their word. As the conversation about hacking becomes more popular, there should be laws requiring cars to have certain types of encryption and cybersecurity in order to protect the passengers of autonomous vehicles. These companies should also consider the approach of a greater transparency with their consumers. That way, if they are ethical and genuine, consumers could trust using their products, in this case an autonomous car.

Though autonomous vehicles will be able to solve many problems and subtract human error, it is important that it does not replace it with programming errors. It is also essential that the algorithm learns in an ethical and correct way. It may take time to determine what that is, however, the minimum amount of accidents and casualties is desired. Car and technology companies must implement sophisticated cybersecurity to protect against any type of hacking that might take place for any reason. There is a long road ahead when it comes to creating the software in the right way. That way when it learns, it learns in a correct and moral method. Machine learning plays a big role in the success of autonomous vehicles and though there will be problems, it would be beneficial to minimize them as much as possible.

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