It might save your life: MIT's Moral Machine asks you to answer moral dilemmas

mit moral machine google self driving car lexus
We humans err and err often. If it is not a small mistake like leaving the keys in the fridge, then it is a deadly one like leaving the oven on all day. We tend to be reckless, forgetful, overconfident, easily distracted — dangerous traits when steering a two-ton, metal machine across lanes at 70 mph. Four out of the top five causes for car crashes are the result of human error.

Computers, on the other hand, have purely pragmatic minds. They sense data and react in programmed, calculated ways. Self-driving cars already seem to be safer than humans behind the wheel. The rate of progress in artificial intelligence over the past few years has some experts claiming that driving a car will be made illegal by 2030.

“Machine intelligence may have to deal with situations where someone has to die so someone else can live.”

But, as most drivers know, driving can require split-second decisions with no obvious right answer. A squirrel darts into the road — do you swerve and risk hitting other cars or drive straight and hope the squirrel survives. How would you react if a dog ran into the road? Or a criminal? Or a child? Which lives are worth risking? These questions are being asked by teams of researchers around the world. Now they are looking to you for answers.

“Self-driving cars are now practically inevitable,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student and research assistant Sohan Dsouza told Digital Trends. “That is a good thing, generally, because they would help save countless lives now being lost daily due to human driver error and can offer independent mobility to countless others who cannot drive.”

To that end, Dsouza, Edmond Awad, and their team at the MIT Media Lab developed Moral Machine, a platform that engages users in moral dilemmas and asks them how the self-driving car should respond. A handful of factors play into each scenario, including the age and gender of victims, their social status, and whether they are breaking the law. Participants are asked to make decisions in 13 dilemmas. The results then pooled as crowdsourced data and may one day be used to guide the development of ethical machines. After judging the dilemmas, users can compare their outcomes to others’ and even design their own for others to answer.

“One of our primary goals is provoking debate among the public,” Dsouza said, “and especially dialogue among users, manufacturers, insurers, and transport authorities.

“Not all crashes can be avoided, and the possibility remains that machine intelligence piloting vehicles may have to deal with situations where someone has to die so someone else can live — rather like the classic philosophical thought experiment known as the trolley problem.”

The trolley problem has been pondered for nearly 50 years. In it, a train car is en route to hit five people down the track. You have a switch that can steer the trolley down another set of tracks, where it will hit only one person. Would you intervene or do nothing?

“There are very few experiment-based studies regarding this possibility,” Dsouza said. “Hence, we needed to create a platform that would be able to generate large numbers of multi-factor scenarios and present them to users in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-use, and engaging way, so as to build a model of how people perceive the morality of machine-made decisions.”

“One of our primary goals is provoking debate among the public.”

Moral Machine has gathered answers on more than 11 million scenarios so far. Although the team has yet to perform a deep analysis, they are noticing regional trends that hint at the rocky road ahead. “On average, respondents from western countries place a relatively higher value on minimizing the number of overall casualties — that is, they approve more utilitarian choices — compared to respondents from eastern countries,” Dsouza said.

Revealing these cultural discrepancies fosters debate and dialogue, which is essential to making progress. “We believe we have already made an impact,” Dsouza said. “This dialogue will eventually help the stakeholders in this scene reach an equilibrium of legislation, liability assessment, moral comfort, and public safety.”

Emerging Tech

Leafy greens are grown by machines at new, automated Silicon Valley farm

Farming hasn't changed too much for hundreds of years. Now a new startup called Iron Ox has opened its first automated hydroponics farm, producing a variety of leafy greens tended by machines.

'4WD' or 'AWD'? Which setup is right for you?

Although four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) are related, they are actually quite different in how they operate. Here, we talk about the fundamental differences between the two systems, and what it means for you as a driver.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (October 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.

Race car or daily driver? Choose either with the 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS

Porsche has expanded the Panamera lineup with a midrange, GTS-badged model. Part race car and part daily driver, it's the variant we've been waiting for since the current-generation Panamera arrived in 2017.
Emerging Tech

Shrimp eyes inspire new camera focused on helping self-driving cars see better

By mimicking the vision of mantis shrimp, researchers were able to make significant improvements on today’s commercial cameras. They hope their technology can help mitigate accidents by letting self-driving vehicles see more clearly.

‘Bloodhound’ rocket car needs a speedy cash injection to survive

The rocket-powered Bloodhound car has driven into difficulties, with the company behind the project needing a multi-million-dollar cash injection to save its dream of attempting a 1,000 mph land speed record.

Double your charging speed with Nomad’s Tesla Model 3 wireless charger

Nomad's wireless charger for the Tesla Model 3 fits the EV's charging dock exactly. If you plug both of the Nomad's into the Model 3's two front USB ports you can charge two smartphones quickly or one phone twice as fast.

Watch this 1,000-horsepower Jeep Trackhawk scorch supercars in the quarter mile

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is pretty quick out of the box, but Texas tuner Hennessey Performance Engineering never settles for stock. Its HPE1200 Trackhawk boasts over 1,000 horsepower.

Hold on to your butts: These are the fastest cars in the world

Think your car is unbelievably fast? Think again. From wind-cheating bodywork to powerful engines, these cars were designed for the singular pursuit of speed (and it shows).

Room to roam: The supersized X7 is unlike any BMW you’ve ever seen

The first-ever BMW X7 is the 7 Series of the SUV world in terms of size, price, and image. Its supersized body has enough room for seven adult passengers and enough tech to impress even the most cutting-edge buyers.

Google Maps now shows EV owners the way to the nearest charging station

Google Maps now lets electric-car owners find the nearest charging station with ease. It's also added data on the number and types of ports available, charging speeds, and notes on the business where the station is located.

Heads up, George Jetson: Terrafugia starts taking orders for its flying car

The Terrafugia Transition flying car will go on sale next year, roughly a decade after the first prototype rolled out of its hangar. Terrafugia promises improvements, including a hybrid powertrain, to make up for the long wait.

At 503 mph, Turbinator II is the world’s fastest wheel-driven vehicle

The Turbinator II is a four-wheel drive streamliner powered by a 5,000-horsepower helicopter engine, and it just achieved 503.332 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. That's an unofficial record for a wheel-driven car.