One of the issues of self-driving vehicles is legal liability for death or injury in the event of an accident. If the car maker programs the car so the driver has no choice, is it likely the company could be sued over the car’s actions. One way around this is to shift liability to the car owner by allowing them to determine a set of values or options in the event of an accident. People are likely to want to have the option to choose how their vehicle behaves, both in an emergency and in general, so it seems the issue of adjustable ethics will become real as robotically controlled vehicles become more common. Self-drive is already here With self-driving vehicles already legal to drive on public roads in a growing number of US states, the trend is spreading around the world. The United Kingdom will allow these vehicles from January 2015. Before there is widespread adoption, though, people will need to be comfortable with the idea of a computer being in full control of their vehicle. Much progress towards this has been made already. A growing number of cars, including mid-priced Fords, have an impressive range of accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane-keeping and parking assist. People who like driving for its own sake will probably not embrace the technology. But there are plenty of people who already love the convenience, just as they might also opt for automatic transmission over manual. Are they safe? After almost 500,000km of on-road trials in the US, Google’s test cars have not been in a single accident while under computer control. Computers have faster reaction times and do not get tired, drunk or impatient. Nor are they given to road rage. But as accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies become more sophisticated, some ethical issues are raising their heads. The question of how a self-driven vehicle should react when faced with an accident where all options lead to varying numbers of deaths of people was raised earlier this month. This is an adaptation of the “trolley problem” that ethicists use to explore the dilemma of sacrificing an innocent person to save multiple innocent people; pragmatically choosing the lesser of two evils. An astute reader will point out that, under normal conditions, the car’s collision-avoidance system should have applied the brakes before it became a life-and-death situation. That is true most of the time, but with cars controlled by artificial intelligence (AI), we are dealing with unforeseen events for which no design currently exists. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Who is to blame for the deaths? If car makers install a “do least harm” instruction and the car kills someone, they create legal liability for themselves. The car’s AI has decided that a person shall be sacrificed for the greater good. Had the car’s AI not intervened, it’s still possible people would have died, but it would have been you that killed them, not the car maker. Car makers will obviously want to manage their risk by allowing the user to choose a policy for how the car will behave in an emergency. The user gets to choose how ethically their vehicle will behave in an emergency. As Patrick Lin points out the options are many. You could be: democratic and specify that everyone has equal value pragmatic, so certain categories of person should take precedence, as with the kids on the crossing, for example self-centred and specify that your life should be preserved above all materialistic and choose the action that involves the least property damage or legal liability. While this is clearly a legal minefield, the car maker could argue that it should not be liable for damages that result from the user’s choices – though the maker could still be faulted for giving the user a choice in the first place. Let’s say the car maker is successful in deflecting liability. In that case, the user becomes solely responsible whether or not they have a well-considered code of ethics that can deal with life-and-death situations. People want choice Code of ethics or not, in a recent survey it turns out that 44% of respondents believe they should have the option to choose how the car will behave in an emergency. About 33% thought that government law-makers should decide. Only 12% thought the car maker should decide the ethical course of action. In Lin's view it falls to the car makers then to create a code of ethical conduct for robotic cars. This may well be good enough, but if it is not, then government regulations can be introduced, including laws that limit a car maker’s liability in the same way that legal protection for vaccine makers was introduced because it is in the public interest that people be vaccinated. In the end, are not the tools we use, including the computers that do things for us, just extensions of ourselves? If that is so, then we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of their use. David Tuffley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
No sleep needed: New technologies are emerging that could radically reduce our need to sleep - if we can bear to use them, writes Jessa Gamble for aeon magazine. Imagine a disease that cuts your conscious life by one-third. You would clamour for a cure. We’re talking about sleep. There may be no cure yet for sleep, but the palliatives are getting better. “Work, friendships, exercise, parenting, eating, reading — there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Gamble writes. “To live fully, many of us carve those extra hours out of our sleep time. Then we pay for it the next day. A thirst for life leads many to pine for a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of the human need for sleep. Little wonder: if there were a widespread disease that similarly deprived people of a third of their conscious lives, the search for a cure would be lavishly funded. It’s the Holy Grail of sleep researchers, and they might be closing in.” Dilbert does startup: When Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams turned himself to entrepreneurship, he wasn’t prepared for some of the weirder ways of Silicon Valley. Describing himself as an “embedded journalist” this week he takes on the pivot. “The Internet is no longer a technology,” Adams writes. “The Internet is a psychology experiment. Building a product for the Internet is the easy part. “Getting people to understand the product and use it is the hard part. The only way to make the hard part work is by testing one hypothesis after another. Every entrepreneur is a behavioral psychologist with the tools to pull it off.” And he’s distilled it all down in “the system”, which looks like this: 1. Form a team 2. Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet. 3. Collect data on user behavior 4. Adjust, pivot, and try again What the gospel of innovation gets wrong: “In the last years of the nineteen-eighties, I worked not at startups but at what might be called finish-downs,” write Jill Lepore in a piece titled ‘The Disruption Machine’ in The New Yorker. Lepore’s thesis is that Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruption, accepted across American industry as “the gospel of innovation”, is wobbly at best because it rests on a group of handpicked case studies that prove little or nothing. “Most of the entrant firms celebrated by Christensen as triumphant disrupters no longer exist, their success having been in some cases brief and in others illusory,” writes Lepore. Anyone who has anything to do with the startup industry will relate to this point: “Ever since “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted,” she writes. “There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars. This fall, the University of Southern California is opening a new program: “The degree is in disruption,” the university announced. “Disrupt or be disrupted,” the venture capitalist Josh Linkner warns in a new book, “The Road to Reinvention,” in which he argues that “fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest,” along with “dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances,” mean that the time has come to panic as you’ve never panicked before.” Don’t worry about the robots: Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen does not believe that robots will eat jobs. “Robots and AI are not nearly as powerful and sophisticated as people are starting to fear, writes Andreessen, “With my venture capital hat on I wish they were, but they’re not. There are enormous gaps between what we want them to do, and what they can do. There is still an enormous gap between what many people do in jobs today, and what robots and AI can replace. There will be for decades.” Image credit: Flickr/jdhancock
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