Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Autonomous cars on a road with visible connection
Autonomous cars on a road with visible connection

Self-Driving Cars: Florida Lawmakers Speed Through Caution Signs

Legislation seems fuzzy about who accepts responsibility when things go wrong with autonomous vehicles

There is room for healthy debate on the significance and status of autonomous vehicles. While some say these driverless cars are right around the corner, others (including myself) believe that full self-driving will not be possible. Rather, the environment for cars must be standardized so that they can operate safely. In any case, several states have been trying to attract business by declaring their states open for autonomous vehicle operation.

As reported by Dyllan Furness at OneZero, Florida, under the leadership of state senator Jeff Brandes (left), is trying to take the lead in attracting businesses that develop this technology. The problem, as Furness points out, is that the legislation lacks details on who is responsible for self-driving cars.

As we have pointed out before, the move even to Level 4 self-driving cars, where self-driving is restricted to a specific location and/or set of circumstances, brings with it a change in responsibilities. A consumer relying on self-driving can’t be responsible for the software actions of a fully-autonomous car any more than the passenger in a taxi is responsible for the driver’s actions. However, as the Evangelical Statement on AI points out, no sophistication of software removes moral responsibility from humans—though it may change our decisions as to which humans are responsible.

This shift in responsibility has profound implications. I believe that most autonomous vehicle manufacturers will exercise an abundance of caution. But if the law fails to recognize the moral shift, reckless manufacturers may escape blame and innocent riders, drivers, and pedestrians will pay for the resultant mayhem. Good intentions are not a sufficient safeguard if the legal framework ignores the moral reality of the situation at ground level.

Legislators in Florida, Arizona, California, or anywhere else where autonomous technology is being developed and tested need to be sure that the laws regarding autonomous vehicles align with the moral truth of the situation. Humans alone can have moral responsibility, and it is the legislators who must take the time to understand the moral implications of new technology and how that should be reflected in legal frameworks.

Also by Jonathan Bartlett on self-driving cars:

How self-driving cars can really work today At Mind Matters News, we advocate self-driving technology that doesn’t confuse human and machine powers.

Self-driving cars need virtual rails.

Who assumes moral responsibility for self-driving cars?

Guess what? You already own a self-driving car

Self-driving vehicles are just around the corner … on the other side of a vast chasm…

See also: Virtual roads and West Virginia back roads: AI’s temptation to theft over honest toil (William A. Dembski)

Jonathan Bartlett

Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Jonathan Bartlett is a senior software R&D engineer at Specialized Bicycle Components, where he focuses on solving problems that span multiple software teams. Previously he was a senior developer at ITX, where he developed applications for companies across the US. He also offers his time as the Director of The Blyth Institute, focusing on the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, engineering, and science. Jonathan is the author of several textbooks and edited volumes which have been used by universities as diverse as Princeton and DeVry.

Self-Driving Cars: Florida Lawmakers Speed Through Caution Signs