Mercedes has clarified its stance on the Trolley Problem after one of its senior executives suggested that the self-driving Mercedes of the future would choose to protect the driver at the expense of pedestrian lives.
Leading magazine Car & Driver interviewed Christian von Hugo, who should know a thing or two about the company’s strategy as he is Mercedes’ Manager for Driver Assistance Systems, Active Safety & Ratings. He was pretty clear, if the quote was to be believed:
“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the person in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, that’s your first priority.”
It’s a thorny issue for Mercedes and any other manufacturer as someone that buys a car would like to believe that they are the company’s priority in the event of a no-win crash.
What is the Trolley Problem?
If, for instance, the car has a ‘choice’ between hitting pedestrians or ramming headlong into a wall at high speed, then the person that paid for the car would like to believe they’re entitled to the sweet end of that deal.
If the general public knows that a manufacturer of high-end vehicles is quite happy to plough through a bus queue full of orphans to protect the cigar-smoking, elderly CEO behind the wheel of their premium machine, that doesn’t look great either.
So really there’s no way to answer the question and most manufacturers skirt the issue completely, relying on trite answers about the car reducing the risk of those occurrences to almost zero by employing forethought and playing the numbers. Almost zero isn’t zero, though, and the Trolley Problem, as it has become known, is going to get more airtime in the years ahead.
Mercedes has now claimed that von Hugo was misquoted and clarified the issue with an official statement. It’s probably best to just present it in full.
Here is Mercedes’ official stance
· For Daimler it is clear that neither programmers nor automated systems are entitled to weigh the value of human lives.
· Our development work focuses on completely avoiding dilemma situation by, for example, implementing a risk-avoiding operating strategy in our vehicles.
· There is no instance in which we’ve made a decision in favor of vehicle occupants. We continue to adhere to the principle of providing the highest possible level of safety for all road users.
· To make a decision in favor of one person and thus against another is not legally permissible in Germany. There are similar laws in other countries as well.
· To clarify these issues of law and ethics in the long term will require broad international discourse. This is the only way to build a comprehensive consensus and promote acceptance for the results.
· As manufacturers we will implement both the respective legal framework and what is deemed to be socially acceptable.
· A statement by Daimler on this topic has been quoted incorrectly.