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Driverless Cars: Tech Ethics

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Driverless cars are in the works for multiple companies, from Google to Tesla. Proponents say the vehicles will ease road congestion, reduce energy consumption and emissions, and drastically decrease the rate of car accidents. So, is it time to let artificial intelligence take the wheel?
To find out what people really think, we surveyed 2,000 people in the U.S. – and tackled all sorts of tricky issues. How do people feel about artificial intelligence? Would anyone actually buy a driverless car? And what about all the moral issues that arise regarding fatal accidents, fault, and the trustworthiness of technology? We’ll steer you through the details below.

Driverless Cars: A Must-Have Purchase?

Would You BuyOnce a pipe dream, autonomous car technology is currently speeding toward the finish line. Companies like Google, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are already testing the cars in certain cities. It’s too early to put a down payment on one – but once the companies roll out these vehicles, would you buy one?
Only 35% of our survey respondents said no, while almost 41% said yes. Nearly a quarter are simply undecided on the issue. When the cars are ready, who appears most likely to purchase? Men. Almost 50% of men said they were poised to purchase a driverless car while only about 30% of women were open to it – perhaps not a bad thing given that men are more likely than women to engage in risky driving habits.

Whose Life Would You Risk?

Hit or Miss
You’re not in the driver’s seat – so if something goes terribly wrong, it’s not technically your fault, right? We asked survey participants to come clean about whether they’d rather risk death by driverless car or risk taking another life.
Across the board, over 8 in 10 participants said they’d chance death themselves rather than risk a human life – and especially the life of a child. Amazingly, 2 out of 10 respondents would put their own lives in peril to avoid hitting an animal.

Men vs. Women: Would You Risk Your Life?

Hit or Miss: Gender
During testing, driverless cars have been involved in some human-error accidents  and one even caused a collision. We asked respondents some tough questions about driverless car accidents specifically, whether they’d rather risk their own lives for the lives of others. Then we broke down the results by gender.
Across the board, results reveal men are more focused on self-preservation than women. Nearly 85% of men would hit an animal rather than risk their own lives, but only 73% of women would. Almost 26% of men would strike a pedestrian rather than risk death, but only around 19% of women would. And almost 14% of men would plow into a crowd rather than gamble their own safety, while only about 11% of women would.

Trust Issues: How People Feel About Technology

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In the scheme of things, the concept of driverless cars is relatively new and foreign. We wanted to gauge people’s honest feelings on just how trustworthy they find this technology.
About 8 in 10 respondents said they’re excited about driverless car technology – though 5 of the 8 admitted to having reservations. Fewer than 1 in 10 find it downright scary. When asked to consider human brains vs. artificial intelligence, only 19% trust AI more. 43% trust human intelligence more, and 37% are undecided.
When asked if driverless cars should minimize the total death toll at all costs, 55% said yes without reservation. Another 38% said only if those inside the car are not put at risk, while 7% thought safety of those inside the car should be the No. 1 priority.
A full 58% of respondents were at least somewhat uncomfortable letting a car make decisions. And when posed an ethical question that’s stirred controversy and made headlines, the result is quite surprising: If a driverless car hits someone, nearly three-quarters of respondents place the blame on the car manufacturer. Another 14% blame those inside the car, while 13% fault the pedestrian.

Should Safety of Those Inside the Car Come First?

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Our final question cut to the chase: If a driverless car put those inside the car at risk but avoided accidents no matter what, would you ride in one? Over 44% of respondents weren’t sure, just over 30% said no, and almost 26% said yes.

Driving Toward the Future

Our survey reveals some fascinating feelings from potential passengers of driverless cars. Men are more interested in buying driverless cars – and compared with women, they are also more focused on saving their own lives rather than the lives of others. However, the majority of people would prioritize pedestrians’ lives over their own.
Overall, people appear pretty undecided over the trustworthiness of driverless car technology. Many aren’t quite comfortable letting artificial intelligence take the wheel. And if something should go wrong, the majority of people would place the blame squarely on automakers.
Ready or not, it appears driverless cars are on the way – but are they really going to revolutionize transportation as we know it? That remains to be seen.


Our survey was hosted on Survey Monkey and was distributed to respondents using Amazon Mechanical Turk workers based in the United States. 2,000 responses were gathered.


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