Ethics, algorithms and self-driving cars – a CSI of the ‘trolley problem’

Wednesday, 17 January 2018
CEPS Policy Insights
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Many experts argue that focusing on how automated cars will solve the dilemma known as the ‘trolley problem’ isn’t going to get us very far in the debate about the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). But it’s hard to resist if you are a philosopher, an ethicist, a futurist, or simply a geek – and it’s fun. Still, this dilemma can reveal a number of outstanding policy issues that are often neglected in the public debate.

This paper performs a ‘crime scene investigation’ to find some of the missing parts in the ethics/AI quandary. These include the need to preserve human control over machines; the need to take data governance and ownership seriously; algorithmic accountability and transparency; various forms of user empowerment and their tension in relation to overall system control; the need for modernised tort rules; and more generally, a discussion about whether algorithms should reflect, exacerbate or mitigate the biases existing in our society.

The investigation concludes that current legal systems are insufficiently equipped to cope with most of these issues, and that a mapping of outstanding ethical and policy dilemmas is a useful starting point for a thorough overhaul of public policies in this complex and ever-expanding domain.

Andrea Renda is Senior Research Fellow at CEPS and Chair in Digital Innovation at the College of Europe.

No. of pages: 17