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Germany Takes an Ethics Stance on Driverless Cars: Don’t Kill Humans

August 24, 2017

The idea of autonomous cars has always raised a big question: in the event of a serious crash that involves life-and-death decisions, what should the vehicle do? Clearly, it's possible to program cars to do as humans desire, but there isn't necessarily a clear course of action to take in every situation.

That, however, hasn't stopped German regulators from taking a stance on the issue. Reuters reports that autonomous-car software must be "programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost." It overcomes any further questions about whether one life is more important than another by adding that vehicles must be blind to the age, gender, or physical condition of people involved in any accident. As for bystanding pets or private property that happens to get in the way—they can be destroyed as long as no humans are harmed.

Reuters doesn't explain what the guidelines suggest in a situation where two courses of action both injure or kill humans, but presumably the car must make a decision that it thinks will minimize total harm caused (a fairly tricky evaluation).

Whatever you think about Germany's particular rules, it's certainly good that the country is weighing in with some kind of regulation. Last year, we reported that many safety officials worry that automakers won't teach their vehicles to make ethical decisions unless regulators force them to. In Germany, at least, that's no longer a problem.

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