For years now carmakers have been avoiding addressing the Trolley Problem. In the event of an imminent crash, who does your car protect: you, the occupant, or a pedestrian?
There’s a good reason for that: there’s no good answer for the Trolley Problem. Option one is you get bad PR that your future self-driving car wants to kill you.
Option two is you get bad PR that your future self-driving car wants to mercilessly kill whomever makes the mistake of standing in your way. You can see that neither is a great choice.
Mercedes, for some reason, decided to go all in on that second option.
At the recent Paris Motor Show, Car and Driver spoke with Christoph von Hugo, Mercedes-Benz’s Manager Driver Assistance Systems, Active Safety & Ratings and framed the trolley question in no uncertain terms. Is a rich old man’s Mercedes hypothetically going to run over a bunch of children?
The technology is new, but the moral conundrum isn’t: A self-driving car identifies a group of children running into the road. There is no time to stop. To swerve around them would drive the car into a speeding truck on one side or over a cliff on the other, bringing certain death to anybody inside.
CD wisely point out that, as I said, carmakers don’t like to address this question. But Christoph von Hugo did:
All of Mercedes-Benz’s future Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars will prioritize saving the people they carry, according to Christoph von Hugo, the automaker’s manager of driver assistance systems and active safety.
“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car,” Hugo said in an interview at the Paris auto show. “If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”
My dude. Holy shit. You know what you’re saying there, right? You’re saying that a Mercedes S-Class or whatever, driving down the road, will happily if not gleefully run over a child if it guaranteed saving the caviar-guzzling millionaire inside. Not just a child. An orphan. A group of orphans. A group of sick, orphans with leprosy.
Pictured: a child begging a Mercedes for its life.
You see, this is why you never, ever answer the trolley problem. Just tell people their self-driving car will drive them home when they’re drunk. That’s all people want to know.
(Thanks for the catch, Shled!)