the trouble with trolleys

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Ian Bogost inveighs against the infamous Trolley Problem. "The trolley problem has become so popular in autonomous-vehicle circles," writes Bogost, "that MIT engineers have built a crowdsourced version of it, called Moral Machine, which purports to catalog human opinion on how future robotic apparatuses should respond in various conditions:"

But there's a problem with the trolley problem. It does a remarkably bad job addressing the moral conditions of robot cars, boats, or workers, the domains to which it is most popularly applied today. Deploying it for those ends, especially as a source of answers or guidance for engineering or policy, leads to incomplete and dangerous conclusions about the ethics of machines.

After much analysis and several scenarios, Bogost asserts that "much greater moral sophistication is required to address and respond to autonomous vehicles:"

Ethics isn't a matter of applying a simple calculus to any situation--nor of applying an aggregate set of human opinions about a model case to apparent instances of that model. Indeed, to take those positions is to assume the utilitarian conclusion from the start. When engineers, critics, journalists, or ordinary people adopt the trolley problem as a satisfactory (or even just a convenient) way to think about autonomous-vehicle scenarios, they are refusing to consider the more complex moral situations in which these apparatuses operate.

For philosophers, thought experiments offer a way to consider unknown outcomes or to reconsider accepted ides. But they are just tools for thought, not recipes for ready-made action.

"It's time to put the brakes on the trolley," Bogost concludes, "before it runs everyone down."

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on March 30, 2018 8:42 AM.

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