The ethics of self driving cars

An interesting article brings up one of my favorite philosophical problems. Suppose Google’s self driving cars become common. You’re riding in one. Then something goes wrong, an oncoming car loses control and is headed right for you. The only alternative to a head on collision is to swerve into the right hand lane, where there just happens to be a full school bus. Swerving will cause the school bus to crash. What should the self driving car do? Should it protect the car’s owner at the cost of a bus full of children?

This is called the trolley problem. There are a number of interesting variants, but just how should the autonomous car react?

Scientists are Romanticists


I just found this quote in an unlikely place. Thought I’d put it here.

A lot of people think that scientists are realists, stacking calculation on calculation to come up with a single truth. But actually, we’re just the opposite. Our job is to look for answers that break down the ideas everyone takes for granted.

It’s a loose way of thinking, one that questions common sense. If anything, it has to be the romanticists that become scientists. A lot of people will tell you, if you like books, you should study humanities.

But if you like to dream, another option is to study science.

— Hayashi Fumino, Angelic Days

I do think that scientists look for things that break down what we take for granted. By trying to find out how our universe works, we’ve found many things that are counter-intuitive, such as: heliocentrism, quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, evolution, and much more.

And once you’ve gotten your head wrapped around the new paradigm, you can understand things better. Frequently the new paradigm makes more sense, once you start thinking in its terms.

Sometimes scientists will do an experiment that sounds stupid to do, because we already expected the outcome. But sometimes the result is different from what we’re used to. As Isaac Asimov said:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’