An inevitable moral conundrum as we are on the verge of broad-based autonomous deployments around the world. Building on the classic Trolley Dilemma (would you kill one person to save five?), this article summarizes a vast study undertaken by MIT to answer this question. One key surprise is how the prioritization varies by country (if you’re young and in harm’s way, it’s best to be in France, for example). Germany has been on the forefront of this thinking, mandating vehicles be developed with ethical parameters (for example, if having to make a choice, crash into an object rather than a person).

As a human being, while hoping to never be in this kind of situation, I have faith ever fiber of my being would be on red-alert to rapid distill the best decision under impossible circumstances – that means logic, emotion and pure chance. How does this change the playing field when these decisions now get made by logic alone?

Should the passengers in the vehicle be sacrificed to save pedestrians? Or should a pedestrian be killed to save a family of four in the vehicle?

To get closer to an answer – if that were ever possible – researchers from the MIT Media Lab have analysed more than 40 million responses to an experiment they launched in 2014.

The results from 40 million decisions suggested people preferred to save humans rather than animals, spare as many lives as possible, and tended to save young over elderly people.

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