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Do you want a self-driving car that prioritises the lives of white people over black people?

Updated on January 22, 2017
Ghaaz B profile image

Lol you clicked it. You clicked it and now you're here and reading this bio which has to be 80 characters.

When you get behind the wheel of your Toyota Camry and rush off to work every morning, you’re probably taking the biggest risk you'll take all day. Car accidents remain one of the leading causes of injury and death in North America. But we never think of the vehicles themselves as responsible for this fact, because that would be absurd. It’s not like anybody has ever seriously put forward the notion that we should ban all vehicles.

But what if it were possible for a car to make moral decisions? What would those decisions be? And what would it actually mean when you say that the car itself is making the decisions? Hopefully we are all aware that self-driving vehicles are currently being designed and tested by Google and Tesla, to name just a couple, and that most of the technology has actually been around since the 80's. So all of these questions and ideas are being considered already. Lets cover just the 3 questions above and then open for a discussion in the comments.

What decisions does an automated vehicle have to make?

While following the most appropriate navigation path to safely arrive at your destination, your self-driving car will need to maneuver traffic and obstacles as well as follow signage and be aware of crosswalks and pedestrians and cyclists and the rest at all times. The operating system will follow a prioritised algorithmic response sequence in the event of a potential accident. At each stage of the potential accident, the operating system will decide the best (and least harmful) course of action to take and then take it, with no time for human input -- that's how we're going to hopefully avoid most accidents from happening at all.

So many of those decisions might include:

  • Abruptly reducing speed to avoid a rear end collision, but also monitoring the vehicles behind to avoid stopping too quickly.
  • Swerving (left or right?) when slowing or stopping in time is deemed impossible. Or swerving to avoid a pedestrian who has either jumped, fallen, or been thrown in front of the vehicle.
  • Swerving left into possible oncoming traffic and hoping another smart car reacts to avoid you might be better than swerving right into a crowd of pedestrians, or rear-ending a family with 3 children in the car, or running into a baby carriage that has rolled into the street.

These are just a few examples of situations in which a self-driving vehicle will have an important decision to make in a split-second based on dynamic information; they will follow the algorithm as written by us -- so we need to make these decisions now for every scenario imaginable and then write them into the code.

So what does it mean to say that vehicles have decisions to make?

Well there are still more decisions that we haven't discussed: moral decisions. If there is no course of action that entirely avoids harm or tragedy, a morally relative decision needs to be made. It is better to hit the rear-end of an SUV than a person; it is better to run over 1 person than 3; it is better to run over an adult who might survive than a young child who will certainly be killed.

If all else is equal, and there is no other way out, and a vehicle has to decide between running onto a sidewalk and hitting a black person or a white person, who does it choose and how? I'll make it easier.

Lets say two girls (one white and one black) are riding down the street on their bikes and you are coming up behind them. A car with an entire family in it is coming towards you in the opposite lane, and you have your family in your vehicle. The white girl falls off her bike and rolls right into your immediate path.

Do you:

See results

It's a pretty terrible thought that none of us want to hold onto for too long, but it's unfortunately true that somebody somewhere needs to write this kind of stuff into not just our self-driving vehicles, but all future AI and automated systems that interact with the public. We have to decide, it's that simple.

© 2016 Ghaaz B


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    • Ghaaz B profile image

      Ghaaz B 20 months ago from The internet

      I just want everyone to know that I had to delete all "racist" comments, and I will not be allowed to approve any more. This is per direct request by hubpages, who told me that the comment "can I swerve into the black girl?" is a racist personal attack, and needed to be censored. So unless your comments are more lukewarm than that, keep it to yourself, I guess.

    • profile image

      Joseph Cross 21 months ago

      People do get that even without all these racist assholes in the comments, the black girl is the MOST LIKELY TO SUSTAIN MINIMAL INJURIES because you're travelling in the same direction, right? Race has absolutely nothing to do with that decision. Running over the white girl messes her up BAD. Hitting the family head on can either end CATASTROPHICALLY or mostly fine, depending on the make of each of your respective vehicles. Sideswiping the black girl will likely injure her, but barring other factors she won't need hospital treatment. The white girl would though, BECAUSE YOU'RE RUNNING HER OVER INSTEAD OF HITTING HER WITH THE SIDE OF HER VEHICLE.

      Seriously, the people who are trying to turn this scenario into a race thing have their heads so far up their asses it's pathetic.

    • profile image

      some dude 21 months ago

      Lol it is not a racist choice (well for some people obvious).

      The options are:

      A) Head on collision involving two vehicles both packed with a family

      B) Rear-ending a bicycle at an angle.

      C) Running over someone on the ground


      If you picked A or C you are either an idiot or a massive racist. Let me explain: if you pick A you are an idiot, because you just caused a crash involving at least 6 people, and the bicylce girls will probably also get hit by at least one of the cars as they crash around. Congrats, pretty much every one is injured. Good job.

      If you pick C you are a massive racist. Here's why: you rather run over (and likely SERIOUSLY injure) a white person doing any damage whatsoever to a black person. While rear ending a bike at 40kph will not be a fun experience for the cyclist, they will probably make it out with some minor injuries (at worst they'll break something). Whereas getting run over at 40-50kph....breaking something will be the least of your worries.

      This article is BLM in a nutshell: there is no racism here (except for the trolls).

    • profile image

      DF 21 months ago

      This article presupposes that the AI is somehow going to be able to not only identify race, but also discriminate based on it- something that would waste a LOT of time, effort, and money to program, and which no company would ever do because it would be PR suicide.

      And the situation given is NOT EQUAL. The three choices are:

      1. A prone pedestrian on the ground in front of my car, who I will definitely run completely over and probably crush to death.

      2. A head on collision with another family in a car, which would be extremely dangerous for everybody involved because head-on collision are goddamn scary.

      3. Swerving- which will lower my speed significantly- into an UPRIGHT, TRAVELING pedestrian, who will probably be hit by my rapidly decelerating vehicle and hopefully will go flying forward without actually going under my tires at any point. And going with the chance that I might not kill somebody is much better than driving straight ahead or swerving left, in which case I almost definitely will kill somebody.

      It's not an easy decision to make, or a good decision, but as far as I can see (and I admit that I'm no physicists or traffic expert) it is the CORRECT decision. If I want everybody to escape this situation with minimal chance of somebody dying, I'm going to swerve onto the sidewalk and into the riding person to my right, no matter if they're a black 16 year old girl, a Jewish rabbi carrying a baby, a 40 year old Peruvian man, or Andre the Fucking Giant.

      It has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the fact that in the situation given, the black girl is going to be the most likely to not die when my vehicle slams into her at 55 mph.

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 21 months ago from Los Angeles

      Would you believe that I actually thought before I clicked that this was going to be a serious and important article? I thought it was going to tell me that there was something about the current driverless car technology that was having an easier time "seeing" darker-skinned people and the problem needed to be fixed so that lighter-skinned people would not be in danger. And what do I find instead? This.

      I had already decided to start moving my own writing off of HubPages. This helps me feel even better about that decision.

    • profile image

      Al 21 months ago

      Why do you have to bring race into this? Swerving to the right is by far the better choice.

      If you swerve left, you, your whole family, and the entire family on the other car gets wrecked. Also, the vehicles may spin off and produce some extra casualties, like the 2 closeby girls.

      If you go on, you WILL kill a girl and you MAY still crash onto the other car, because it's coming at you. And if it does, you will also crush the other girl to your right.

      If you swerve right, you WILL kill a girl, but chances are you might not collide with the other vehicle, you will not collide with the other girl, and you and your family will be saved.

      Race has no matter in this.

      Maybe the problem would be stupid people that lose control of their vehicles, because that's the main issue here that is killing someone.

    • profile image

      Jacob 21 months ago

      The problem is that you left us with a choice that is objectively better than the others: swerve into the black girl.

      We're not getting into a head-on collision, that's right out. But why would we run over the white girl? She'd be much more likely to die from being crushed underneath a car than the black girl would from being hit in the back or side. Not to mention the fact that the car would presumably at least be also slowing down at this point.

    • profile image

      aloha snackbar 21 months ago

      i wonder what the other 5% were thinking

    • profile image

      The Fuck 21 months ago

      Head on collision is going to obliterate driver as well as the oncoming car.

      White girl is on the ground and will be squished by tires, most likely dead.

      Black girl on bike to the right will get a strong push to the side, most likely will not be run over, so its the most rational option, racist jokes aside.

      This article just seems made to race bait.

    • profile image

      Darius 21 months ago

      First of all, I doubt cars will ever care about race, and I'm 99% sure the author made this as a joke, but...

      It's funny how many people are yelling "RACISTS" because people chose to hit the black girl. It was either the white or the black. If I chose to hit the white girl instead of the black because of their race, that would still be racist. Ignoring race(and thus preventing racism) it would be a 50/50 decision(ignoring the option to hit a whole family).

      Now, we see that obviously the population isn't split 50/50, but let's think, if you had to choose to save a life. And the only difference was race, it would make sense to choose a member of your own race. You empathize with them most. Plus by swerving, you may be able to slightly reduce your speed, and since she is riding a bike, you will knock her over, but not be as likely to run her over and crush her with your car.

      To sum it up, BLACKLIVESMATTER

      but no more than the life of someone of another race.

    • profile image

      Think 21 months ago

      Why not hit the breaks like a normal person and not run over people?

    • profile image

      The Train Conducter 21 months ago

      How bout some multi track drifting to get all three?

    • profile image

      God Emperor Trump 21 months ago

      Let's just build a wall and make cyclists pay for it.

    • profile image

      So you wanna be a millionare? 21 months ago

      does the black girl die or does she become a vegetable for the rest of her life?

    • Ghaaz B profile image

      Ghaaz B 21 months ago from The internet

      I hope you all know this has been one of the funniest for no reason days of my life. Thank you.

    • profile image

      MyKneeGrows 21 months ago

      Totally not racebait and clickbait

    • profile image

      dan47 21 months ago

      This is a race baiting article, although the people picking the black girl are correct imo, and not because of skin color, but simply because she's the one who is most likely to survive the crash, since she's on a bike. The family exposes more people to risk and the girl on the ground would almost certainly die and can't hope to dodge the car

    • profile image

      barrrrishta 21 months ago

      WOW. Just. Wow. Seriously I can't even.

      The racism here is... wow.

      Not to mention whatever your choice you have to harm a woman or risk doing so. Sexist much?

    • profile image

      Lereddit 21 months ago

      Le reddit army strikes again


      9gag (tm)

    • profile image

      Michael Hunt 21 months ago

      I would swerve to the right because that's how my instincts are.

    • profile image

      Michael 21 months ago

      Why would the AI of a self driving car even differentiate between different shades of skin colour?

      Of course it is very interesting and necessary to explore the unevitable dilemmas the programmers of these Intelligences will have to face but the differentiation between white and black is a complete non issue in this case.

      But props to the author for creating yet another unoriginal clickbait article on the internet

    • profile image

      this article dumb 21 months ago

      this article is ludicrous.

      It wont be a programming decision between a black person or white person it will be based on percent chance of survival. The car will then hit whoever has the best chance of living from that situation because thats how things are programmed, and you would have to install a pretty intense sensor for the car to determine their skin color with good accuracy.

    • profile image

      Wyatt Mansworld 21 months ago

      Need an option for swerving into the author of this article.

    • profile image

      DADAAda 21 months ago

      This whole article is stupid,

      first of all the title is a huge clickbait, then, race has nothing to do with what a self-driving car takes into account when making decision, in fact it actually doesn't even have the information.

      Do you really think programmers will go to the great length needed to clearly identify the race of an individual on the road, that would cost huge sums of money, not even to mention that the car might not analyse the situation quickly enough because of this, what would be the purpose of this ?

      This article creates race issues where none exist, self driving car are acting according to an algorythm made to ensure the best outcome out of every situation, if none can be found, it must act quickly, and not take the time to analyse whether someone is small, black, or whatever.

      we can't know what the car would do in that situation (we should not forget that the car must also garantee the safety of its passengers), but if it runs over the black girl, what will you say, that the car is racist ?

      So no, nobody will have to write in the software of a driverless car whether it is more morally acceptable to run over a black person or a white person, you're just creating race issues where there isn't any and you're showing your ignorance of technology

    • profile image

      Roger from Kavala 21 months ago

      Why are all of these RACISTS choosing the black girl?!

    • profile image

      alpha_cuck 21 months ago

      the black girl obviously

    • profile image

      Nazi Frog 21 months ago

      I wish there was an option to swerve into the person who wrote the article.