Ethical Issues with Simulating the Bridge Problem in VR

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (6):3313-3331 (2020)
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We aim to generate a dilemma for virtual reality-based research that we motivate through an extended case study of Judith Thomson’s (1985) Bridge variant of the trolley problem. Though the problem we generate applies more broadly than the Bridge problem, we believe it makes a good exemplar of the kind of case we believe is problematic. First, we argue that simulations of these thought experiments run into a practicality horn that makes it practically impossible to produce them. These problems revolve around concepts that we call “perspectival fidelity”and “context realism.” Moral dilemmas that include features present in the Bridge variant will, as a result, be practically impossible to simulate. We also argue that, should we be wrong about the practical impossibility of creating a VR simulation of Bridge, such a simulation must face an ethical horn which renders these simulations ethically impermissible to develop or use. For these reasons, we argue that it is virtually impossible to simulate the bridge problem (and other thought experiments with similar features) both practically and ethically in VR.

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