Surprising judgments about robot drivers: Experiments on rising expectations and blaming humans
Keywords:autonomous machines, trolley problem, robot ethics, responsibility, survey methods
N-Reasons is an experimental Internet survey platform designed to enhance public participation in applied ethics and policy. N-Reasons encourages individuals to generate reasons to support their judgments, and groups to converge on a common set of reasons pro and con various issues. In the Robot Ethics Survey some of the reasons contributed surprising judgments about autonomous machines. Presented with a version of the trolley problem with an autonomous train as the agent, participants gave unexpected answers, revealing high expectations for the autonomous machine and shifting blame from the automated device to the humans in the scenario. Further experiments with a standard pair of human-only trolley problems refine these results. While showing the high expectations even when no autonomous machine is involved, human bystanders are only blamed in the machine case. A third experiment explicitly aimed at responsibility for driverless cars confirms our findings about shifting blame in the case of autonomous machine agents. We conclude methodologically that both results point to the power of an experimental survey based approach to public participation to explore surprising assumptions and judgments in applied ethics. However, both results also support using caution when interpreting survey results in ethics, demonstrating the importance of qualitative data to provide further context for evaluating judgments revealed by surveys. On the ethics side, the result about shifting blame to humans interacting with autonomous machines suggests caution about the unintended consequences of intuitive principles requiring human responsibility.