At least they’re not using GTA as a data source

MIT’s Media Lab wants you to help crowd-source solutions to the Trolley Problem as a decision-making data set for self-driving cars. This is exciting news, because asking the internet to solve tricky moral dilemmas using binary decision making will surely reflect our societal values accurately.

Putting aside snarky skepticism, I had the following thoughts as I went through a judging session:

  • Having to pick one of these options without any “it depends” or “I don’t want to choose” selection got uncomfortable fast.
  • After a few scenarios I started to question the definiteness of the outcomes. How is there equal certainty that plowing straight ahead through four people will kill all of them, but swerving and colliding with a barrier will absolutely kill all passengers. Are self-driving cars not allowed to have airbags?
  • I wonder if they are storing data about how long people spend on each question and if they read the scenarios. Overall I wonder how they actually intend to use this data.
  • Best scenario I encountered on multiple trials was a self-driving car transporting two cats and a dog when its brakes fail with three pedestrians in the road in front of it. The two cats made the dog sit in the back seat.

Finally, a note on the “Results” page you get to – if you land there and find yourself bothered by some of the values it attributes to you, keep in mind the data sample is way too small relative to the number of things that change between scenarios. I just did a run through to see what my results looked like if, without considering any other details, I applied the principles that (1) if the choice exists to hit a barrier and harm those in the car rather than those outside the car, always take that choice, (2) if the choice must include hitting others, maintain your course (presumably hitting the brakes) and drive predictably rather than swerving erratically. Based on an application of ONLY those rules and the scenarios I happened to be served up, I was able to also create a 100% preference for saving children and criminals and always hitting physically fit people.

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