For a while now, car makers and technology giants working on autonomous driving technology have been dealing with an ethical conundrum for which there seems to be no universal answer. BMW will also have to take the ethical side of things into account when it comes to its AI and that’s not something you can work around or answer quickly. What will BMW’s Level 5 autonomous cars do in case of a life and death situation?
What would a completely autonomous car do in the eventuality of an inevitable accident, when having to decide between the safety of those inside the car and those on the outside. This is basically an extreme scenario taken to the absolute limit, when a car’s systems actually have to choose between sending you flying into a fence or hitting a person or more on the sidewalk with possible fatal consequences.
The solution to this interesting and peculiar possible situation seems to be the key to allowing governments around the world to set up the proper legal environment for autonomous cars. At the moment, we’re still far away from having a legislation that will actually allow driverless cars on public roads and that’s the main issue that has to be solved before manufacturers can actually offer the technology to us. It’s not like the tech is already here but it does seem to be evolving at a faster pace than legislators.
Speaking to Car Advice in Munich about the topic, BMW’s head of sales, Ian Robertson, said that the cars the Bavarians will be offering with Level 5 autonomy shouldn’t have to make such decisions. “The first step of this is that the ethical part of this is going to be one of the things that is more and more thought about, so I doubt that the car will be able to make decisions based on life and death,” he said, implying that solutions will prevent the actual arrival of such extreme situations.
“What you will get is that inevitably, if there is an accident that is going to happen, the car will slow to the slowest position, but it won’t be able to say that if I swerve this way I will hit that person or if go that way that will happen…” added Robertson on the topic. What makes BMW’s system different than others is the fact that the company plans to make sure all the tech needed to make any decision will be inside the car so that the system doesn’t rely on a 5G connection to communicate with a back-end server located miles away.
“The car must have the ability to make its own decisions, that can’t be reliant on the back-end… what we will have is connectivity for a back-end assessment system, but the control system is in the car at that moment in time,” he said. That does seem to be the most reliable solution but it will definitely be expensive to implement.