One of my Calgary law students is writing about the ethics of autonomous vehicles, which, these days, center around the Trolley Problem. As Lauren Davis wrote in an Atlantic Article, the Trolley Problem is an iconic philosophical thought experiment about morality and ethics. It states a hypothetical dilemma where a runaway streetcar is hurtling towards five unsuspecting workers. Do you pull a switch to divert the trolley onto another track, where only one man works alone? Or do you do nothing?

Philosophers have mixed opinions about the value of thought experiments like the Trolley Problem. Some find them useful hypotheticals to think through abstract questions because the particularities expose weaknesses and traps of generalities. Others find them silly games that fall short of explaining how we act or would act in real life (people often laugh when they first encounter the Trolley Problem). …

About

Kathryn Hume

Exploring machine intelligence at @FastForwardlabs. Versed in privacy, security, early modern philosophy and modern literature.

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