As of 2016, manufacturers and technology innovators are racing to perfect the autonomous vehicle for mainstream use. Autonomous vehicles are marveled at to have the potential to revolutionize transportation. Increased safety, decreased traffic congestion, increased fuel efficiency, reduced pollution, decreased impaired driving, and mobility for those unable to drive are the goals of carmakers fighting to get out the first autonomous vehicle. As promising and revolutionizing as this may sound, not all that glitters is gold. like any innovative technology, autonomous vehicles face a slew of challenges. Media has continued to ignore the reality behind autonomous vehicle implementation, failing to acknowledge the layers of political, legal, ethical, and social scrutiny. As if autonomous vehicle implementation will be a mellow walk in the park. To doubt and question in the early stages is of the utmost importance. As we get closer to autonomous vehicles becoming reality in the United States going forth from the year 2016, our nation’s paradigm of existing laws, regulations, and most importantly, ethics, will need to be analyzed, exposed, and delivered to a well-informed public, as well as being updated from a new perspective to supplement the emerging technology without hindering it’s true ability.
The first known death caused by a self-driving car was disclosed by Tesla Motors on May 7th, a development that has raised eyebrows for consumers as the autonomous vehicle industry seeks to lock up their trust and support. While it’s first and foremost a tragic loss of life, it also points to an array of challenges, ethical conundrums, and unanswered questions about the quest for autonomous cars. Most accounts of the incident have a semi-truck’s driver making a very dangerous turn across oncoming traffic. A human miscalculation. Though Tesla’s Autopilot feature may be critically programmed to navigate all US roadways, it still cannot relate to human decision making/emotion, and as long as autonomous vehicles share the roadway with humans, events like these are possible to re-occur. The emerging picture than is one in which human drivers created a situation that an automated system failed to save them from, rather than one in which an automated system made a fatal mistake on its own. This incident beholds an air of inevitability regarding the ethical components of putting humans in autonomous vehicles, as well as what ethical components to install within the vehicles. Though ethical components of autonomous vehicles are at the forefront of the industries social issues, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Cyber security ( The risk of interconnected programming), the cost of the technology (Out of average consumers price range), the potential loss of jobs in the transportation sector ( Taxi services), and our current roadway system designed for humans, all fly under the greater populations radar. If the autonomous vehicle industry strives to manifest their dreams into reality, these topics must not go un-addressed, as public appraisal, acceptance, and transparency are the key to autonomous vehicles success.
What good is all this technology if no one wants to use them? A study by the University of Michigan found that 43.8% of drivers said they didn’t want any automation at all in their next vehicles. and 95% of drivers said that they would still want access to a steering wheel and other controls even if their vehicle was automated (Cherry). 68% of Americans surveyed by Volvo said driving a car manually is a “luxury that should be preserved” (Edelstein). Another analysis in the journal Science, “The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles”, conquers that “76% of participants think it would be more moral for autonomous vehicles to sacrifice one passenger, rather than kill ten pedestrians.” (Bonnefon). In the same analysis, respondents were asked to indicate how likely they would be to buy an autonomous vehicle programmed to minimize casualties (Sacrificing themselves and other family members in the car if the situation calls for it) and how likely they would be to buy an autonomous vehicle programmed to prioritize protecting its passengers, even if it meant killing 10 or 20 pedestrians. 50% said they would buy the self-preserving model, while only 19% said they’d buy the former (Bonnefon). These studies show a clear correlation of reluctance to give up control, major concerns from the opposition primarily are fixated on safety and cost, which is not a positive sign for the future of autonomous vehicles. These numbers are startling as media portrayal marvels at the soon coming of autonomous vehicles. What does the near future of transportation truly behold?what’s behind the curtains must be addressed. Cars are maybe the most iconic technology in America—forever changing cultural, economic, and political landscapes. Automated cars have the potential to reinvent these landscapes all over again. Though automated vehicles promise great benefits, as with all new technology comes curve balls that are difficult to predict. Autonomous vehicles are on track to come whether the US is ready for it or not. Change is inescapable, but how we guide and prepare for that change is of the utmost importance.
Bonnefon, J. (2016, June). The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles. Science. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6293/1573
Edelstein, S. (n.d.). Autonomous Cars More Popular in Some States Than Others … Retrieved October 24, 2016, from http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/volvo-survey-attitudes-to-self-driving-cars/
Cherry, G. (n.d.). How We Roll. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://dme.engin.umich.edu/driverlesscars/
Authored by: Ben Hamilton, a student of sustainability at the University of Vermont, an instigator of arguments; he who beholds an inquisitive eye for rationality.
Advised by: Rob Williams of The University of Vermont