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Could you be the target of a driver-less car?

Imagine that you are driving along Interstate 10 in heavy traffic and a crash occurs just in front of you. In order to avoid the crash, or otherwise minimize the damage that could occur, you are posed with an impossible conundrum: swerve to the right to crash into a Toyota Corrolla, as well as the center divider, or swerve to the left to hit a Volvo sport utility vehicle (SUV) with passengers in it.

Considering the physics between the two scenarios, it may seem best to hit the Volvo, since hitting a larger vehicle could better absorb the impact of the crash. Also, the design and safety features in the Volvo ostensibly make it better for the passengers in that vehicle as well. 

With the development of self-driving cars and other autonomous features, programming cars to minimize harm to others is something developers are taking very seriously, because it may involve answering questions similar to the example provided. At all else, safety is a top priority, but intentionally programming a car to hit another car brings about some legitimate ethical challenges. Essentially, is it right to program a car, as a failsafe, to hit a bigger car? More importantly, would the owner of the larger car have a grievance against the manufacturer of the autonomous car for programming the car to crash into it?

These crash optimization algorithms, while not a huge concern at the moment, could become thorny legal issues as autonomous cars become a larger part of the driving public. It will be interesting to see how liability issues will be handled if they come to fruition. 

Source: “The robot car of tomorrow may just be programmed to hit you,” Patrick Lin, May 6, 2014

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