Smart Cars/Moral Algorithms

The discourse around self-driving cars has been dominated by an emphasis on their potential to reduce the number of accidents. At the same time, proponents acknowledge that self-driving cars would inevitably be involved in fatal accidents where moral algorithms would decide the fate of those involved. This is a necessary trade-off, proponents suggest, in order to reap the benefits of this new technology. In this critical work, I engage the above argument, demonstrating how an undue optimism and enthusiasm about this technology is obscuring our ability to see what is at stake and explaining how moving beyond the dominant utilitarian framings around this technology opens up a space for both ethical inquiry and innovative design.

I suggest that a genuine caring concern for the many lives lost in car accidents now and in the future—a concern that transcends false binary trade-offs and that recognizes the systemic biases and power structures that make certain groups more vulnerable than others—could serve as a starting point to rethink mobility, as it connects to the design of our cities, the well-being of our communities, and the future of our planet.

Related publications and presentations:

  1. Nassim JafariNaimi, Our Bodies in the Path of the Trolley; Or, why Self-driving Cars Must *not* Be Programmed to Kill. Journal of Science, Technology, and Human Values. 43: 2 (March 2018): 302-323.
  2. Society for Social Studies of Science Backchannels Interview on the Future of Self-driving Cars.
    with Aleka Gurel, August 2017
  3. See also: Self-Driving Car or ‘Killing Robot’?