Self-driving cars will soon be able to make snap life or death judgements in the event of deciding who to save in a collision, according to new research.
The increasing drive towards automated vehicles has raised questions over whether they will be capable of making ethical decisions, like motorists.
Now, a study has shown for the first time that human morality can be modelled on a computer.
The findings have significant implications for managing the dilemmas that driverless cars may face on the road.
Researchers from the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabruck created a simple formula that placed a variety of living things and objects in order, based on their ‘value of life’, or survival.
The process would enable automated vehicles to ensure the safety of the driver and pedestrians, especially children, above animals or inanimate objects in the event of an unavoidable crash.
This means, in principle, that a machine based version of ethics is possible.
About the findings Professor Peter Konig, a senior author of the paper, said: ‘Now that we know how to implement human ethical decisions into machines we, as a society, are still left with a double dilemma.
‘Firstly, we have to decide whether moral values should be included in guidelines for machine behaviour.
‘Secondly, if they are, should machines act just like humans?’
To create their formula, the scientists used immersive virtual reality to surround volunteers with images and sounds.
They designed simulated road traffic scenarios so convincing that the participants were fully engrossed.
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