Human Decisions in Moral Dilemmas are Largely Described by Utilitarianism: Virtual Car Driving Study Provides Guidelines for Autonomous Driving Vehicles

Science and Engineering Ethics 25 (2):399-418 (2019)
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Abstract

Ethical thought experiments such as the trolley dilemma have been investigated extensively in the past, showing that humans act in utilitarian ways, trying to cause as little overall damage as possible. These trolley dilemmas have gained renewed attention over the past few years, especially due to the necessity of implementing moral decisions in autonomous driving vehicles. We conducted a set of experiments in which participants experienced modified trolley dilemmas as drivers in virtual reality environments. Participants had to make decisions between driving in one of two lanes where different obstacles came into view. Eventually, the participants had to decide which of the objects they would crash into. Obstacles included a variety of human-like avatars of different ages and group sizes. Furthermore, the influence of sidewalks as potential safe harbors and a condition implicating self-sacrifice were tested. Results showed that participants, in general, decided in a utilitarian manner, sparing the highest number of avatars possible with a limited influence by the other variables. Derived from these findings, which are in line with the utilitarian approach in moral decision making, it will be argued for an obligatory ethics setting implemented in ADVs.

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Achim Stephan
Universität Osnabrück