'How can driverless cars tell the difference between a man and a woman?' asks robotics professor

‘It is nonsense’ that self-driving cars can make moral decisions, says Robotic Professor

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Professor Noel Sharkey has said that it is “nonsense” that autonomous cars can be “concerned” and make moral decisions, after a study found that old people should be sacrificed in autonomous car crashes.

Researchers from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) asked more than 2 million people in an attempt to establish who the public thinks driverless cars should hit in an unavoidably deadly car crash.

Professor Sharkey, a Robotics Professor from the University of Sheffield told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham: “In terms of this moral dilemma thing, I think it was a really interesting report that tells you what we all think nationally.

“It shows how difficult it is to get morality right across nations.  

“As far as whether autonomous cars are concerned when it comes to making these decisions, it is nonsense really.

“Some of these categories include male doctor – how is it going to know they are a male doctor? They are going to have to wear a big badge.

“It is a really great report on morality but in terms of autonomous cars, you have to be able to rely on the cars being able to perceive these categories – nevermind tell the difference between a man and a woman.”


It 'varies among different countries' 

The MIT study found that people thought cars should favour killing small groups rather than larger ones, and veer towards old people to save the young.

However, there were variations in responses depending on which country people were from.

Edmond Awad, the lead author of a paper outlining the results of the project said: “The main preferences were to some degree universally agreed upon.

“But the degree to which they agree with this or not varies among different groups or countries.”

Researchers found that many countries in Asia did not have such a strong commitment to saving young people over old.


'It might skid towards one big fat man'

The Mercedes Benz self-driving car in Amsterdam. Image: BART MAAT/AFP/Getty Images

Professor Sharkey added that the car’s perception of road conditions would also have to be taken into account.

He said: “Not only that, how does it perceive the road conditions.

“There may be oil on the road and they might skid when they are heading towards the one big fat man who seems to be the worst.

“You’ll want to lose weight if you want to survive on the roads.

“The car is going to veer towards this fat man but in the meantime skid and go into a load of children.

“When you hit a vehicle you don’t know what is behind it, what deflection you will have.”