Artificial Intelligence - What Is The Trolley Problem?


Philippa Foot used the term "trolley problem" in 1967 to describe an ethical difficulty.

Artificial intelligence advancements in different domains have sparked ethical debates regarding how these systems' decision-making processes should be designed.

Of course, there is widespread worry about AI's capacity to assess ethical challenges and respect societal values.

An operator finds herself near a trolley track, standing next to a lever that determines whether the trolley will continue on its current path or go in a different direction, in this classic philosophical thought experiment.

Five people are standing on the track where the trolley is running, unable to get out of the path and certain to be murdered if the trolley continues on its current course.

On the opposite track, there is another person who will be killed if the operator pulls the lever.

The operator has the option of pulling the lever, killing one person while rescuing the other five, or doing nothing and allowing the other five to perish.

This is a typical problem between utilitarianism (activities should maximize the well-being of affected persons) and deontology (actions should maximize the well-being of affected individuals) (whether the action is right or wrong based on rules, as opposed to the consequences of the action).

With the development of artificial intelligence, the issue has arisen how we should teach robots to behave in scenarios that are perceived as inescapable realities, such as the Trolley Problem.

The Trolley Problem has been investigated with relation to artificial intelligence in fields such as primary health care, the operating room, security, self-driving automobiles, and weapons technology.

The subject has been studied most thoroughly in the context of self-driving automobiles, where regulations, guidelines, and norms have already been suggested or developed.

Because autonomous vehicles have already gone millions of kilometers in the United States, they face this difficulty.

The problem is made more urgent by the fact that a few self-driving car users have actually died while utilizing the technology.

Accidents have sparked even greater public discussion over the proper use of this technology.

Moral Machine is an online platform established by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to crowdsource responses to issues regarding how self-driving automobiles should prioritize lives.

The makers of The Moral Machine urge users to the website to guess what option a self-driving automobile would make in a variety of Trolley Problem-style problems.

Respondents must prioritize the lives of car passengers, pedestrians, humans and animals, people walking legally or illegally, and people of various fitness levels and socioeconomic status, among other variables.

When respondents are in a car, they almost always indicate that they would move to save their own lives.

It's possible that crowd-sourced solutions aren't the best method to solve Trolley Problem problems.

Trading a pedestrian life for a vehicle passenger's life, for example, may be seen as arbitrary and unjust.

The aggregated solutions currently do not seem to represent simple utilitarian calculations that maximize lives saved or favor one sort of life over another.

It's unclear who will get to select how AI will be programmed and who will be held responsible if AI systems fail.

This obligation might be assigned to policymakers, the corporation that develops the technology, or the people who end up utilizing it.

Each of these factors has its own set of ramifications that must be handled.

The Trolley Problem's usefulness in resolving AI quandaries is not widely accepted.

The Trolley Problem is dismissed by some artificial intelligence and ethics academics as a helpful thinking exercise.

Their arguments are usually based on the notion of trade-offs between different lifestyles.

They claim that the Trolley Problem lends credence to the idea that these trade-offs (as well as autonomous vehicle disasters) are unavoidable.

Instead than concentrating on the best methods to avoid a dilemma like the trolley issue, policymakers and programmers should instead concentrate on the best ways to react to the different circumstances.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

You may also want to read more about Artificial Intelligence here.

See also: 

Accidents and Risk Assessment; Air Traffic Control, AI and; Algorithmic Bias and Error; Autonomous Weapons Systems, Ethics of; Driverless Cars and Trucks; Moral Turing Test; Robot Ethics.

References And Further Reading

Cadigan, Pat. 2018. AI and the Trolley Problem. New York: Tor.

Etzioni, Amitai, and Oren Etzioni. 2017. “Incorporating Ethics into Artificial Intelligence.” Journal of Ethics 21: 403–18.

Goodall, Noah. 2014. “Ethical Decision Making during Automated Vehicle Crashes.” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2424: 58–65.

Moolayil, Amar Kumar. 2018. “The Modern Trolley Problem: Ethical and Economically Sound Liability Schemes for Autonomous Vehicles.” Case Western Reserve Journal of Law, Technology & the Internet 9, no. 1: 1–32.

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