Self-Driving Cars & A.I : Why It is so Important for our Tech to Care about Us


Elon Musk recently said that AI (artificial intelligence) is potentially more dangerous than nukes. He, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have all signed an open letter promising to ensure AI developments benefit humanity. Talk about a tall order. How are we going to do this? One approach: Leverage the key opportunities autonomous driving R&D offers us today. It can help pave the way toward a new future of AI.

A 6-year old kid jumps out in front of your Google Car. It can swerve to avoid killing the kid, but only if it goes off a cliff which will surely kill you. What should it do? Same scenario, but it’s a 70 year old homeless guy who jumps out. Different decision?

Human morality and ethics are a tricky business. But getting it right at a programmatic level can help us to design AI machines that have a sense of empathy for living beings built into their “DNA”. While self-driving cars don’t need an exhaustive human-like empathy framework to successfully make decisions, they do need to have some level of moral understanding in order to be viable.

I will outline the 3 key opportunities that self-driving car R&D offer us in this arena and end with the call to use autonomous vehicle R&D with this loftier goal in mind. Let’s stop focusing only on the perceptual computing and processing power required for self-driving cars and start thinking of ways to frame the morality question. Let’s begin to use scientific rigor to create a shared set of ethical standards that can guide the AI community.


self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, AI, Elon Musk, Google Car, morality

Crystal Rutland

Affiliation Empirical

As CEO and co-founder of Empirical, Crystal Rutland oversees innovation in the company’s UX strategy and research practices while continuing to advise clients on product design issues. She has interviewed thousands of users across a wide range of sectors, notably in Internet of Things (IoT), mobile consumer electronics, automotive IVI systems and electric vehicle (EV) design. Some of her clients include Intel, HP, Jaguar Land Rover, Chrysler, and Toyota.