By Mehak Garg
It all started with Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1450s when he created a crude blueprint for a self-propelled cart. Throughout history, attempts were made by multiple companies in hopes of creating the world’s first self-driving car. In the 1920s Houdini Radio Control Company and Chandler both tried and partially succeded. In the 1970s the Japanese were able to build upon our knowledge of self-driving cars and created a camera system that captured images and relayed them to a computer. Now we have new safety features like assisted parking and braking systems with some cars being able to park and brake themselves. In order to create a fully autonomous car, we have defined 5 levels of autonomy. Many vehicles are partially automated falling in level 2 but recent advancements from Tesla and Audi fall in level 3: conditional automation where a driver is still required but does not need to navigate or monitor everything. That blueprint has since evolved to form the modern constructs of what is now considered as a self-driving car.
Self-driving cars will revolutionize the transportation industry by creating a variety of benefits. The primary one is road safety. More than 90% of car accidents result from driver behavior and error. If self-driving cars are able to mitigate the amount of error, thousands of lives can be saved annually. Fewer car accidents could reduce the costs of insurance and the amount of expensive medical bills saving users about $4,100 annually. Fewer car crashes will also lead to less congestion on the roads meaning cars would be on the street for decreased periods of time. This would decrease travel times and reduce carbon emissions. Self-driving cars also increase accessibility and independence. Many individuals with disabilities are perfectly capable of being independent and having a self-driving car would be one step in the right direction for them. Another benefit is they would help increase productivity by allowing users to leave the car while the car parks itself, saving users valuable time.
Despite the numerous benefits of self-driving cars, there are also many drawbacks. Some drawbacks include pricing, specifically the sticker price being too expensive, the vulnerability of technology and our data, massive job losses in the transportation sector, low functionality during extreme weather, adherence to unique local laws, and others. In addition to these harms, there are many ethical concerns with self-driving cars. Drivers every day have to make ethical choices and use their best judgment. One example is if there is an animal crossing the street, most drivers would stop to spare the animal’s life. With a self-driving car, this gets more complicated because if the car is programmed to prioritize the passenger above all else, the car might decide to not stop prioritizing the passenger’s time instead. Ethical choices made by drivers were measured using the Moral Machine survey which found that individuals discriminated against others when driving based on race, socioeconomic status, age, gender, and looks. The Moral Machine used variations of the famous thought experiment about the trolley problem to understand and explore different moral decisions. The self-driving car is meant to be better than a human and eliminate preconceived biases. An example of how these ethical concerns can play out in a self-driving car is if a car is programmed to stay closer to the bike lane over the trucks, then more bikers will be killed over passengers prioritizing one group of individuals over another.
Self-driving cars have massive potential but in order for them to truly benefit society, it is imperative we get as many perspectives as we can on the ethical issues they can pose. You can advance the progress we make by contributing to the Moral Machine Experiment linked below. It’s been over half a century since Da Vinci’s humble cart, as we constantly innovate and reiterate but we still have a long way to go.
Learn more about the Moral Machine experiment here: http://moralmachine.mit.edu/ https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-self-driving-cars-4117191 https://www.fool.com/investing/2019/09/30/what-does-the-future-hold-for-self-driving-cars.aspx
https://www.insidescience.org/news/moral-dilemmas-self-driving-cars https://www.titlemax.com/resources/history-of-the-autonomous-car/ https://www.esurance.com/insights/self-driving-cars-save-money