Comment: Self-driving Mercedes will be programmed to sacrifice pedestrians to save the driver.

As we dig deeper, it seems that the problems faced by driverless cars and by human drivers are much the same. We try to avoid crashes and collisions, and we have to make split-second decisions when we can’t. Those decisions are governed by our programming and experience. The differences are that computers can think a lot faster, but they can also avoid many crashes that a human driver wouldn’t have. These differences pull in different directions, but they don’t cancel each other out.

Sorrel, C. (2019). Self-Driving Mercedes Will Be Programmed To Sacrifice Pedestrians To Save The Driver. Fast Company.

Initially I thought that this was a presumptuous decision but after thinking about it for a few seconds, I realised that this is exactly what I would do if I was the driver. And given that I’d likely have my family in the car, I’d double down on this choice. Regardless of how many different scenarios you come up with where it makes sense to sacrifice the vehicle occupants, the reality is that human drivers are making these choices every day, and we’re simply not capable of doing the calculations in real time. We’re going to react to save ourselves, every time.

Car manufacturers and software engineers should just programme the car to save the driver, regardless of the complexity of the scenario because this is what humans do, and we’re fine with it.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.