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The automation of ethics: The case of self-driving cars

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This paper explores the disruptive potential of artificial moral decision-makers on our moral practices by investigating the concrete case of self-driving cars. Our argument unfolds in two movements, the first purely philosophical, the second bringing self-driving cars into the picture. More in particular, in the first movement, we bring to the fore three features of moral life, to wit, (i) the limits of the cognitive and motivational capacities of moral agents; (ii) the limited extent to which moral norms regulate human interaction; and (iii) the inescapable presence of tragic choices and moral dilemmas as part of moral life. Our ultimate aim, however, is not to provide a mere description of moral life in terms of these features but to show how a number of central moral practices can be envisaged as a response to, or an expression of these features. With this understanding of moral practices in hand, we broach the second movement. Here we expand our study to the transformative potential that self-driving cars would have on our moral practices . We locate two cases of potential disruption. First, the advent of self-driving cars would force us to treat as unproblematic the normative regulation of interactions that are inescapably tragic. More concretely, we will need to programme these cars’ algorithms as if there existed uncontroversial answers to the moral dilemmas that they might well face once on the road. Second, the introduction of this technology would contribute to the dissipation of accountability and lead to the partial truncation of our moral practices. People will be harmed and suffer in road related accidents, but it will be harder to find anyone to take responsibility for what happened—i.e. do what we normally do when we need to repair human relations after harm, loss, or suffering has occurred.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesigning robots, designing humans
EditorsCathrine Hasse, Dorte Marie Søndergaard
Place of publicationAbingdon
Publication year2019
ISBN (print)9780415786577, 9780415786560
ISBN (electronic)978-1-315-22720-7
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Algorithms, decision-making, morality, ethics, self-driving cars, justification, emotions, moral responsibility, regret, remorse, moral dilemmas, moral practice

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