AI, Articles, Cognitive Vehicles

Human Ethics in a Machine?

It is possible to teach artificial intelligence human ethics – this is the result of a study conducted by the University for Cognitive Science in Osnabrück, Germany. Recently the German Ministry of Transport presented an even more detailed report on ethics in autonomous vehicles.

In both cases an important issue was the behavior if an accident is inevitable. It was determined that an autonomous car has to avoid personal damage at any cost – no matter if the accident causes damage to animals or material damage. If even personal damage is not avoidable the vehicles should be programmed to rather hit a single person than a group of people, so the report of the ethics committee.

Focus & Methodology of the Study

The University of Osnabrück follows a similar route. The researchers Leon R. Sütfeld, Richard Gast, Peter König and Gordon Pipa work on a strategy to teach the machine human morality, especially in dilemma situations.

In order to do so the researchers let several subjects drive in a driving simulator with 3D VR glasses. The subjects drove through a virtual environment and were warned of an upcoming accident 15 meters before the (virtual) impact. The test person had to decide what or who to hit – an accident was inevitable. 18 different obstacles were tested – from objects to animals, persons and groups.

Building the Algorithm

The collected data was analyzed and categorized to formulate rules which describe the test persons’ behavior. The rules were translated so they can be fed to a machine. An algorithm was created that makes machine behave like the average human (according to the study) – rather hit an animal that a person, and rather a single person than a group.

Nevertheless discussions will come up: Is it ethically correct to teach a machine that the life of an animal is “less worth” than a human one? There is still a long time until autonomous vehicles will be established, but you can be sure that conflicts will appear about morality and ethics and autonomous vehicles.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site:

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