Since self-driving cars don’t have instincts, are they really safer than manual cars?

The debate over the safety and control of computer drivers versus human drivers has become heated as the development of autonomous cars is coming out of the theory stage and onto the roads. Can passengers truly trust a computer’s analytical responses to situations over their own instincts?

According to some, the answer is yes. Computers have the control, information, and focus to make better-educated decisions than humans. Furthermore, they have the added advantage of not having emotions to hinder logical reasoning.

On the other hand, some believe that this lack of emotion is the problem. How can a computer know what is right versus what is logical?

Instinct Controversy

Over the last half century, it has become apparent that computers can have the ability to calculate, analyze, and compute data a lot faster and more accurately than the average human. In addition to having various programs at its disposal, computers can access millions of pieces of data that the human brain just can’t contain. As such, it is easy to see why some believe that computers can be much safer drivers than a human: they can analyze and react in a fraction of the time it would take for a human to process the situation.

However, analysis isn’t the only factor when it comes to the safety of your family. This is where instinct plays a big role. Computers don’t feel and can’t comprehend the personal and mental anguish associated with a car accident. The only thing a computer cares about is what it’s programmed to care about. As such, it doesn’t understand that a car accident’s outcome can affect you in more ways than just physically. Rather than judging the best course of action for you, it’s only concern is to limit physical injury, and in some cases, a physical injury may be easier to take than a psychological one.

Below are a few examples of why human instinct may be more important than the analysis of a computer.

You’re pulling into your driveway when suddenly your daughter’s cat runs out in front of you. If the car veers to the side you may fall into a ditch. What choice do you make?

  • Computer. The safest thing for you would be to try and brake without swerving and potentially kill the cat.
  • Human. In order to save the cat, you may decide that a few scrapes from falling into the ditch would be acceptable over your daughter’s anguish

You’re driving on the highway with your child in the passenger seat. Suddenly two cars ahead of you lose control and head toward your vehicle. One is slightly to the left of your car and the second is barreling straight toward your son’s side. If you veer to the left, the first car will strike you. If you stay put, the first car will miss you but the second car will probably sideswipe your child’s side. If you veer right, the second car may hit your side head-on but miss your son’s side. Which is the best choice?

  • Computer. Analytically speaking, the best choice may be to stay put as you’ll have the best odds of avoiding injury. However, this means that although you have the best odds of not getting hurt, your son’s odds aren’t in his favor.
  • Human. Your child is the most important thing. You may decide that in order to spare him you’re willing to sacrifice the potential of getting injured

Man or Machine: Which Will You Trust?

The basic gist of this is that a computer plays the odds, while you play your heart. So which is right? Which is better? With the development of self-driving cars and the inevitable morality debates that will ensue, time will tell.

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