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Life and death choice: The greatest hurdle for autonomous trucks?

Back in June, we wrote a post about the advances being made toward a day when we will see self-driving vehicles on the streets and highways. As anyone who has been paying attention knows, there already are semi-autonomous vehicles plying the roads of Texas.

There are some that can sense when to brake. Other systems prevent vehicles from straying out of their lanes while underway. Yet others make it possible for a car to park themselves. But as our post observed, there are some who say fully autonomous vehicles are likely to remain out of reach for a long time to come.

The reason for the skepticism, even from within the industry, is that computer programming isn't close to being able to address all the possible physical conditions that could be encountered on the road. But some experts say there may be an even bigger issue that will stall adoption of full autonomy -- how to program vehicles to kill.

That such programming will be needed is not even a question in the minds of one French research team. They note that there are situations in which human drivers are called upon to make tough ethical choices about who could be hurt or killed in a crash.

For example, imagine an unexpected crowd crosses in front of your vehicle. An accident can't be avoided. Either you will hit the crowd, or you will have to steer into some barrier and occupants of the vehicle will be left injured or dead. With no clear right or wrong answer, how should a fully autonomous vehicle be programmed to respond?

Researchers posed that question in a poll and what they found is that most people agreed that autonomous cars should be programmed to minimize deaths. But the responses also indicated people would be unwilling to ride in such a vehicle themselves.

And then there would be the sticky issue of assignment of blame.

Fortunately, this isn't an issue that victims of negligent car and truck drivers are confronted with today. Perhaps it will never be an issue.

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