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the Tunnel Problem

Unfortunately, the reality that automated vehicles will eventually kill people has morphed into the illusion that a paramount challenge for or to these vehicles is deciding who precisely to kill in any given crash. Although dilemma situations are relevant to the field, they have been overhyped in comparison to other issues implicated by vehicle automation.

Last week we looked at the results of our reader poll on the Tunnel Problem, a moral dilemma that explores an unavoidable life and death scenario involving an autonomous car. Now we’re going more in-depth, to provide you with some insight into the qualitative responses we received.

Two weeks ago, we presented the Tunnel Problem, and asked if death by autonomous car is unavoidable, who should die. We also asked who should be responsible for making the decision. See the results from our reader poll.


Image credit: Craig Berry

We are moving closer to having driverless cars on roads everywhere, and naturally, people are starting to wonder what kinds of ethical challenges driverless cars will pose. One of those challenges is choosing how a driverless car should react when faced with an unavoidable crash scenario. Indeed, that topic has been featured in many of the major media outlets of late. Surprisingly little debate, however, has addressed who should decide how a driverless car should react in those scenarios. This who question is of critical importance if we are to design cars that are trustworthy and ethical.

There may be times when an accident or a death is unavoidable while an autonomous car is controlling the wheel. What should an autonomous car do when such situation arises? How should the designers of the cars program them to respond? This week, we introduce the Tunnel Problem, which describes one such situation and has been a topic of serious debate for philosophers as well as those watching the technology carefully. Let us know what you think by participating in our poll.

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