AI experts and robotics specialists are not the only ones who are working on resolving problems faced by autonomous vehicles. Philosophers are also paying close attention to the development of what, from their perspective, looks like a myriad of ethical quandaries on wheels.
The field has been particularly focused over the past few years on one particular philosophical problem posed by self-driving cars: They are a real-life enactment of a moral conundrum known as the Trolley Problem. If a car is in a situation where any action will put either the car passenger or someone else in danger, then how should the car be programmed to respond? Autonomous vehicles will be unable to avoid comparable scenarios, which is very common in the day to day aspects of life.
Nicholas Evans, philosophy professor at Mass Lowell, is working alongside two other philosophers and an engineer to write algorithms based on various ethical theories. Their work is being supported by a $556,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow them to create various Trolley Problem scenarios, and show how an autonomous car would respond according to the ethical theory it follows.