Self-driving cars may never be allowed to exist in the way they are currently being imagined, according to BMW’s special representative to the UK, Ian Robertson.
Speaking at the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Summit, he said that the morality surrounding how artificial intelligence would make life-or-death decisions, and whether humans could really accept the cold logic of any data-based choice that ended someone’s life, however unintentionally, could see self-driving cars limited to certain road types. He’s quoted as saying:
“Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death. What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.”
At present, BMW’s autonomous test vehicles on UK roads regularly run 660-mile routes, but the human at the wheel needs to take control an average of three times per journey. Robertson envisages that governments, however eager they are to get to the front of the technological arms race now under way, will eventually set limits. He explained:
“Then there is the overarching consideration of the regulators that we need to consider. In the UK, the government is encouraging autonomous testing — even if some of its fundamentals go against the Highway Code, the fabric of our laws. They know we are in a race to take leadership and that opening up to testing could have significant benefits.
“But I believe that in the long term, the regulators will step in and set boundaries about how far we can go. It might be to allow it only on motorways, as they are the most controlled environments.
“Or perhaps they’d essentially ‘rope off’ parts of cities to allow autonomous cars into controlled areas, where the consequences for pedestrians are controlled.”