Self-driving Cars vs. Pedestrians vs. Lawyers

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Autonomous vehicles are gonna happen. It looks like they're gonna happen surprisingly-soon. (They won't be ubiquitous for a bit, but hey! Baby steps!)

There have been a few people talking about the "Trolly Problem" these things are going to face already. Namely: when the car has to make a decision that is likely to result in someone dying - such as swerving into a barrier to avoid a pedestrian - whose life should be preserved?

From what I've heard (I lost the source, but I think it was NPR?) when people were polled about this, they said they would rather their car kill them than a pedestrian. But given the option of buying a car that would kill them (and their families) rather than a pedestrian, they usually prefer to kill the pedestrian. So what will ultimately reach the market?

I predict several phases:

Generation 1 - programmers err on not being a public menace. First-generation self-driving cars will usually kill their own owners rather than bystanders.

Generation 2 - Some manufacturers will start favoring drivers over bystanders. Those will appear to be statistically "safer" and dominate the market. However, there will be lawsuits. Lawyers will know which cars have been programmed to favor their owners, and you know that they will sue the pants off of any driver that kills a pedestrian!

Generation 3 - Liability-aware cars. Cars will starting haveing to be able to determine who is at fault in an accident and prefer to kill that person. Thus, driver safety is maximized and liability is minimized. Everyone wins! (Except cyclists; we're doomed.)

That's what I think will happen. You can start calling me a futurist when it does.


(Secret Generation 4 - Once legal precedent is established that self-driving cars are good at killing whoever was responsible for an accident, somebody will figure out how to game the system. One manufacturer will suddenly have cars that are just sliiightly safer for their drivers. These will just be Gen 2 cars again, but they'll be lying about it.)

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