Turning moral decisions into computer code

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Nicholas Evans, a philosophy professor in Massachusetts, is part of a group tackling the classic moral dilemma called the “Trolley Problem” as part of the development of autonomous cars.

Evans is not currently taking a stand on which moral theory is right. Instead, he hopes the results from his algorithms will allow others to make an informed decision, whether that’s by car consumers or manufacturers. Evans isn’t currently collaborating with any of the companies working to create autonomous cars, but hopes to do so once he has results.

Perhaps Evans’s algorithms will show that one moral theory will lead to more lives saved than another, or perhaps the results will be more complicated. “It’s not just about how many people die but which people die or whose lives are saved,” says Evans. It’s possible that two scenarios will save equal numbers of lives, but not of the same people.

“The difference between theory A and theory B is that the people who die in the first theory are mostly over 50 and the people who die in the second theory are mostly under 30,” Evans said. “Then we have to have a discussion as a society about not just how much risk we’re willing to take but who we’re willing to expose to risk.”

via Self-driving cars’ Trolley Problem: Philosophers are building ethical algorithms to solve the problem — Quartz

I’ve argued in other places that Physics, like Theology, is applied Philosophy. (In the same way that you can claim Engineering is related to Physics.) I find it fascinating to see how this is being explicitly managed in this case.

The article goes on to suggest that this particular problem might serve as a testbed for a sort of experimental moral theology someday.

Like I said: fascinating.

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