If you thought the future of robot-guided cars, promised by this:
was far off, you were mistaken. Because, well, this:
It is not hard to imagine a time when these robot-guided cars–even if they aren’t ubiquitous–are at least ordinary, like Segways. (After all, the Johnny Cab is basically the Google Car with Siri, right?) Naturally, this raises the question: Who is liable when the Google Car experiences a glitch and the double-meaning of hard-drive crash becomes a reality?
On the one hand, the answer is straightforward: If equipment is defective, the manufacturer is liable. In this way, the computer malfunction is no different than the airbag malfunction. Or the tires, transmission, or even an exploding fuel tank. Practically speaking, this can be beneficial to the consumer, as it’s a lot easier to collect damages from Google than the unemployed drunk who smashed into you. On the other hand, it certainly doesn’t feel the same as those sorts of glitches. It’s not hard to see why. The driving part of driving a car involves the perception, wisdom, choice, and even free will of the driver. (I recognize the “free will” is a loaded term.) In a typical driving situation, we have different judgments about the driver who gets into an accident because his tire blows out and the one who speeds through the red light. We instinctively hold the latter more culpable because the cause was more directly under his control.
In the robot-car situation, we off-load our involvement in the driving process to a computer. In this way, these personal decisions in the driving process don’t transfer to the computer. They simply evaporate and, along with them, their related moral implications. This subtle shift is, in fact, seismic. And it’s not just robot cars. Robot doctors are not far behind. And, shudder, even robot lawyers. What are the implications to society as humans give up more and more of their authority? Will these sorts of ethical choices become less important as they decrease in frequency, or will their rarity make them more important? Will our views of product liability become more developed as it grows more relevant? I expect there will be fundamental shifts in the way we view culpability and morality in this changing environment.
What do you think?