An Incomplete, Chronological, Continuously Updated List of Articles About Murderous Self-Driving Cars and the Trolley Problem

Skip to the important stuff.

Turns out people are really interested in robots trying to kill them, so tons of articles on the web that basically all say the same thing: Self-driving cars are a real-life version of the Trolley Problem. And with that, everyone’s a philosopher.

They mostly get their info from the research of Patrick Lin, but as you’ll see from my incomplete list of literal autonomous auto cyber paranoia, this is an issue that has been discussed, at length, ad nauseaum, since 2011 and likely before.

If you feel compelled to write an article about self-driving cars and the Trolley Problem, be aware you are not the first to do so.

I would go as far as saying this particular meandering path of reasoning now looks more like an 8-lane highway. And as with most highways, it is urging us to pass by all the most important aspects of the conversation on our way to a foregone conclusion.

My thoughts (you should skip this)

People have asked me to write an article about self-driving cars and the Trolley Problem for years. Because I’ve been talking about it for years. Because as a philosopher, nothing is more gratifying than seeing a favored thought experiment made real. Anyway. This is that article, though I won’t discuss the Trolley Problem in detail (just buy David Edmonds’ book Would You Kill the Fat Man instead. Support philosophy. It matters).

Here’s the skinny: Self-driving cars are coming. They are already on our roads in one form or another, and they are going to make our roads orders of magnitude safer than they are right now. However, in doing so, the manufacturers must also come face-to-face with a quandary that has perplexed philosophers, psychologists, and other studiers of human behavior for the last century and a half: When faced with a decision to kill one person or another, how do we choose?

This problem has many names, most famously the “Trolley Problem” or the “Fat Man”. Any student dabbling in philosophy will have encountered it.

So here, before I rattle off an incomplete, continuously updated list of articles about murderous self-driving cars and the Trolley Problem, let me give you my abridged opinion on the matter, in point form for easy digestion. I advise you to skip this. It’s pointless:

The Future History of Autonomous Autos

  • Self-driving cars will start hitting our roads within the next 5 years.
  • When they do, there will be a lot of minor, but highly publicized accidents of a trivial nature.
  • Within a year of self-driving cars becoming legal, there will be a fatality.
  • A lawsuit will ensue where the family / friends / estate / insurance company of the deceased(the Claimants) sue the car manufacturer for the death.
  • The car manufacturer will claim it was an accident.
  • The Claimant will accurately point out that the death was a foregone conclusion resulting from a programmatic decision of a moral issue (The Trolley Problem).
  • Depending on the judge and jury, whatever outcome this first case has will become precedence setting for autonomous automata like self-driving cars, planes, bikes, whatevers in the future.
  • For this reason, enormous pressure will be put on the judge and/or jury to rule in favor of the car manufacturer.
  • A public outcry will result when the court rules in favor of the car manufacturer.
  • Conspiracy theorists will claim self-driving cars are part of a government conspiracy to cull the population. They are wrong. Self-driving cars are part of a corporate conspiracy to get us to be exposed to more advertising through watching more TV and surfing the internet while driving. I digress.
  • As more self-driving cars come online, road accidents decrease.
  • When the majority of vehicles on the road are self-driving (around year 2280 or so), road accidents are so rare they get special news coverage.
  • Years later, historians will write about the rise of machine intelligence and how it all started with self-driving cars.

The Self-Driving Trolley Problem Echo Chamber: A Chronology of Repeated Ideas







Help build the list to save the web from more of these articles

Have you come across yet another “I just discovered the Trolley Problem and am now convinced self-driving cars are out to kill us” article I have not listed here? Add it in the comments and I’ll put it up.