A Podcast: Self Driving cars and Ethics


When I first looked into exploring self driving cars, I was fascinated with how they worked and surprised at how frequent they are becoming in testing and actually being used on our roads. It is not a simple technology, there is so many man hours in creating them and putting them together and the work is quite complex. My original questions thought about laws that would have to keep up with them, what would the consequences would be if there was a system error and who gets what justice for accidents or crashes. I looked into the history of the topic, and found that the idea isn’t new and has been around for a long time, like the Houdina Radio Control Company’s first public demonstration of a driverless car back in 1925. We now have much more intricate systems but it was a nice start. Looking beyond the technology came the ethics. Information from the UN and World Heath Organisation say that 1.2 million people die every year from road accidents, and that’s from people’s mistakes whether they are distracted, not paying attention or any other reasons. That was an important statistic in favour of self driving cars, that the number needed to be lower.

I would say I’m much more of an audio-visual learner, so I wanted to use a forum that other people could easily digest the ideas I was researching and especially with a conceptual and thought provoking topic such as ethics with self driving cars I thought a podcast would be good for that. Ethics comes into this topic because as the technology advances so do ideas of it being superior in every way to humans. Humans don’t have the capacity to analyse a situation that unfolds in 1.2 seconds, however a computer system does have the potential to. So why not go one step further and try to make these cars even safer, and save more people. A human’s reaction to someone walking across the road would be to hit the breaks, swerve, freeze and all of these could be detrimental to everyone involved. A car however can have a 360 vision around itself, see someone walking across the road and already know if there is a car behind it, next to it or if there is possibly a safer option to use.

Should a car though see two people on the road and then only one in the car behind it and decide to stop suddenly to sacrifice only that person rather than the two? That was the whole question behind the ethics and people tended to use philosopher Jeremy Benthem’s idea of utilitarian view. But how would that be ethical? What did the person in the car do to have that decision made for them? So the podcast tried to ignite questions in the listener, because these self driving cars have the ability to make much better decisions than humans can so what decisions should they be making?


General self driving car background information:

Dallegro, J. (2016). How Google’s Self-Driving Car Will Change Everything. Investopedia. Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/052014/how-googles-selfdriving-car-will-change-everything.asp

Dundon, T. and Howcroft, D. (Jan, 2018). Automation, robots and the ‘end of work’ myth. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/automation-robots-and-the-end-of-work-myth-89619

Knight, W. (Oct, 2016). When will Uber actually ditch drivers for algorithms?. MIT Technology Review. Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602492/what-to-know-before-you-get-in-a-self-driving-car/

ABC News. (2018). Autonomous Uber vehicle kills woman pushing bike across street. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-20/uber-suspends-self-driving-car-tests-after-fatal-crash/9565586.

(April 2018). ‘Tesla car that crashed and killed driver was running on Autopilot, firm says’  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/31/tesla-car-crash-autopilot-mountain-view

Ethics information and articles:

J Bonnefon, A Shariff, I.(Oct, 2015). Autonomous Vehicles Need Experimental Ethics: Are We Ready for Utilitarian Cars?,  Rahwan. http://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/13d4/56d4c53d7b03b90ba59845a8f61b23b9f6e8.pdf

Goodall, N. (Jan 2017) From Trolleys to Risk: Models for Ethical Autonomous Driving. American Journal of Public Health.  https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303672

D’Olimpio, L. (June 2016) The Trolley Dilemma Would You Kill one person to save five,  The Conversation  https://theconversation.com/the-trolley-dilemma-would-you-kill-one-person-to-save-five-57111

Lin, P (May, 2016) Why Ethics Matters for Autonomous Cars,  https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-662-48847-8_4 

Marshall, A. (April 2018). When will Self-Driving Cars be Ready?   Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/when-will-self-driving-cars-ready/

Goodall, N. (2018). Can You Program Ethics Into a Self-Driving Car?. IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science News. Available at: https://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/self-driving/can-you-program-ethics-into-a-selfdriving-car

Podcast example:



The Ethics of Self-Driving Cars | Philosophy Tube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozcaLnTuidU

The Social Dilemma Of Driverless Cars | Iyad Rahwan | TEDxCambridge  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhCh1pBsS80

Self-Driving Cars: The Ethical Dilemma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjHWb8meXJE


We Drove In Google’s Newest Self-Driving Car (HBO) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtApzKnGU94


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