Robotic Vehicles…

A piece in the morning newspaper, I date myself obviously by admitting that I still crave the tactile paper thingy at my fingertips, dealt with Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford Motor Company, seeking a meeting of the minds so far as the programming of robot cars. Interestingly, Bill Ford is the great-grandson of Henry Ford who was among the original early auto manufacturers.

In some four generations, if my generational finger-counting is accurate, we have evolved from the horse-drawn carriage to the point where we do not need to physically drive the vehicle which takes us from A to B.  Those autonomous vehicles are on the roads today. Uber is experimenting with autonomous vehicles today in Pennsylvania, for example.

Bill Ford is talking about the need for those who are in the business of manufacturing automobiles getting together to discuss just what the parameters ought to be for the programming of these self-driving vehicles from a human ethics perspective.  He obviously foresees the dilemma of the manufacturer that makes a decision in programming that might ultimately be found to have caused the death of a person.  He wants to gather all the players together and get this vast world of ultimate decision-making by computers down to the degree where all robotic vehicles will be making the same decisions the same way given the input each is faced with on the road.

Bill Ford is proposing that as many of the ethical issues involved be defined as to acceptable levels of computer-driven vehicle performance likely from the legalistic perspective as well as from the human perspective.

One of those possible issues was described in this article thusly:

But accidents will still happen.  And in those moments, a robot car may have to choose the lesser of two evils – for example, swerving onto a crowded sidewalk to avoid being rear-ended by a speeding truck or staying put and placing its occupants in mortal danger.

First, the enormity of this undertaking is way beyond my ability to comprehend.  How many people will have to participate?  Over what span of time will this all be formulated? Who will make final decisions and how will the naysayers react?  Can this possibly be done so that legal battles will be significantly minimized?  Will the robotic vehicle be able to sense the types of the vehicles involved, ie. a school bus vs. a four-door sedan?  Will the number of passengers weight the decision-making, ie. a vehicle carrying four passengers vs. a vehicle carrying two passengers?

How does one begin the process of defining the plethora of situations, and then working as a member of a team to extrapolate best-outcome scenarios?  What is the likelihood that the leader in the industry will agree to participate with the other players to its possible detriment?  Will its stockholders sue it for making a decision that might well devalue their holdings?  Certainly, the federal government will be involved.  Is this going to be the source of significant campaign contributions for favored lawmakers?  I am mindful of a much lesser undertaking, the development of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) which had far fewer moving pieces, and the debacle that has become.

We have evolved from horse-drawn carriages to today.  We have evolved from ground-bound vehicles to air travel and to space travel.  We likely have the human talent available to make this happen, but what will it take to get this debate moving?  Will this be government-funded since it will impact the public domain?

Are we ready as a society for this next leap of technology and faith?  And, what will happen if this meeting of the minds isn’t convened?  Could Henry Ford ever have pondered such as this?

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