COMPLEXITY: Physics of Life

The Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles with Bryant Walker Smith

Episode Notes

Autonomous vehicles hardly live up to their name. The goal of true “driverlessness” was originally hyped in the 1930s but keeps getting kicked further and further into the future as the true complexity of driving comes into ever-sharper and more daunting focus. In 2022, even the most capable robotic cars aren’t self-determining agents but linked into swarms and acting as the tips of a vast and hidden web of design, programming, legislation, and commercial interest. Infrastructure is more than the streets and signs but includes licensing requirements, road rules, principles of product liability, and many other features that form the landscape to which driverless cars continue to adapt, and which they will increasingly alter.

While most ethical debates about them seem to focus on the so-called “Trolley Problem” of how to teach machines to make decisions that minimize human casualties, there are many other wicked problems to consider:

Is automated driving a technological solution or a policy solution? Should policymakers have the same expectations for automated and conventional driving? How safe must an automated vehicle be for deployment? Should humans or computers have ultimate authority over a given action? Should harm that a human could have prevented somehow outweigh harm that a human caused? Given that a hacker could infect entire fleets, maps, or real-time communication between cars, how much new risk are we willing to take to reduce the more traditional safety hazards with which we are familiar? And, perhaps most surreally: How do you ticket a robot, and who should pay?

Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.

This week on complexity, we speak to Bryant Walker Smith (Twitter) at the University of South Carolina School of Law and The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford, whose work centers on the ethics of autonomous vehicles. We link up to explore the myriad complexities — technological, regulatory, and sociocultural — surrounding the development and roll-out of new mobility platforms that challenge conventional understanding of the boundaries between person, vehicle, institution, and infrastructure. Buckle up and lean back for a dynamic discussion on the ever-shifting locii of agency, privacy and data protection, the relationship between individuals, communities, and corporations…

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Ethics of Artificial Intelligence in Transport
Who is driving driverless cars?
From driverless dilemmas to more practical commonsense tests for automated vehicles
Who’s Responsible When A Self-Driving Car Crashes?
How Do You Ticket a Driverless Car?
Controlling Humans and Machines
Regulation and the Risk of Inaction
Government Assessment of Innovation Shouldn’t Differ for Tech Companies
New Technologies and Old Treaties
It’s Not The Robot’s Fault! Russian and American Perspectives on Responsibility for Robot Harms


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