braking car

Human life prioritised in Germany’s ethical guidelines for driverless cars

Protecting human life rather than property or animals will be the priority of driverless vehicle AI under new legal guidelines being drawn up in Germany.

Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, all of which are investing heavily in self-driving technology. 

German regulators have been working on rules for how such vehicles should be programmed to deal with a dilemma, such as choosing between hitting a cyclist or accelerating beyond legal speeds to avoid an accident.

Under new ethical guidelines - drawn up by a government-appointed committee comprising experts in ethics, law and technology - the software that controls such cars must be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.

That means that when an accident is unavoidable, the software must choose whichever action will hurt people the least, even if that means destroying property or hitting animals in the road, a transport ministry statement showed.

The software may not decide on its course of action based on the age, sex or physical condition of any people involved.

“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalisation and self-learning systems,” German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in a statement.

“The ministry’s ethics commission has pioneered the cause and drawn up the world’s first set of guidelines for automated driving,” he added.

Germany earlier this year passed legislation under which a driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the autonomous vehicle, clearing the way for the development and testing of self-driving cars.

Many automakers are currently reticent to include crash prevention technology such as automatic braking in their mainstream vehicles due to the added costs that would be incurred in a competitive market. 

Thousands of deaths and injuries could be avoided every year according to regulators but the industry’s major players are moving slowly when it comes to widespread deployment in their vehicles.

Meanwhile, Apple’s rumoured self-driving car project has apparently been shelved after the team behind the technology were not given clear goals and were hamstrung by unrealistic deadlines.

Sources speaking with The New York Times also said that Apple will transition its focus to creating the technology that auto makers will need for their own automotive projects.

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