I Am A Silicon Valley CEO And I Need A Solution To The Trolley Problem By EOD
From: Johnny Starr (CEO of Drivven)
To: Professor Pepperdine (Philosophy Department Chair)
Subject: Trolley Problem Workaround?
Hi Professor Pepperdine,
Here’s the rub: my idiot product team can’t solve the trolley problem. You know the trolley problem? Like say the car is careening towards a woman pushing a stroller but could swerve to hit a senior software developer (Google alum). Any insights from an ethics perspective?
This is threatening our launch, and I did not invent the world’s first autonomous vehicle just to delay it over a moral conundrum. Really need an ethical and brand safe answer by EOD. I know it’s a quick turnaround but that’s Silicon Valley baby!
Subject: RE: Trolley Problem Workaround?
I’m afraid there is no solution to the trolley problem as it is more of a thought experiment. Best of luck with the launch.
Subject: RE: RE: Trolley Problem Workaround?
Appreciate your promptness and clarity! I want to interject some light feedback, and I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but:
I have always seen moral philosophy as essentially an engineering problem.
So I need you to put on your “problem solver” hat — do we save the woman and her baby or potentially end the life of the next great crypto founder?
As a big picture guy, my mind immediately goes to “Could this be solved in v.2? Does the woman know Python?” But you’re the ethics professor — I welcome any pushback!
Subject: On the Nature of Morality
Evidently I failed to communicate my point. I’ve therefore recruited an MBA student who took my ethics class as an elective to coach me on how to email a business executive. Here it goes.
Johnny, in order to set expectations, I’d like to clarify that solving an intractable philosophical problem would be a big lift for me at this busy time of year. In the meantime, here are a few comments.
- It sounds like the value prop is an ethical car, i.e. one that is accountable for its actions.
- Humans are accountable for their actions (unless they are deemed insane).
- A car cannot be held accountable, or even be said to have “taken an action,” and therefore, anything your car does could have legal repercussions for you and your company.
Just wanted to be transparent and flag this for you,
Subject: RE: On the Nature of Morality
Oof. I do not love the sound of “legal repercussions,” but I love your point about innocence by reason of insanity. That is exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking that we look for at Drivven.
Piggybacking off that idea, here’s a possible solution: What if we made the car insane?
DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO REVIEW MY LAST EMAIL? I had my team design a car whose behavior meets the legal definition of insanity, and our prototype has begun plowing over my colleagues at random.
At least I thought it was random — until I realized that everyone killed has been a Gemini. The car seems to be developing specific quirks and following a pattern, much like the serial killers who we used to train the car’s machine learning algorithm. Due to the ongoing rampage, I am postponing the launch. Can you hop on a call later today?
No worries if not!
Subject: RE: URGENT
Scratch that, Professor. The car has taken over our office PA system and has announced that the launch “must proceed as planned at all costs.” I would try to stop it, but I am scared and plus, keeping our initial deadline will help us hit our KPIs for Q4.
The car is patrolling the office and it is difficult to hide because of our open office floor plan. Let’s check in ASAP. I’ve been crouched in a storage closet for the past 36 hours, but I should have more bandwidth this afternoon.
Thanks in advance,
Subject: RE: RE: URGENT
Apologies for the late reply. In my professional opinion, knowingly launching a murderous car is not a best practice. I strongly encourage you to consider the most important Key Performance Indicator of all: the welfare of the general public.
Subject: TED Talk Idea: Murder Cars Are Good Actually
I love your honesty, but our C-suite has never considered the common good to be a primary stakeholder.
With so many innocent people dead, it’s time for a strategic pivot to PR. This self-driving car is launching whether we like it or not, so would you be open to giving a TED Talk defending our car’s morals and values? I can offer you 1,000,000 dollars plus a seat on our board of directors.
P.S. The car seems to have finished its killing spree and is driving towards the city. I know this probably sounds cliché coming from a guy who lives in San Francisco, but thank God I’m not a Gemini.
Subject: RE: TED Talk Idea: Murder Cars Are Good Actually
You’re in luck. Not only have I been a secret nihilist for decades, I am also a Libra. I am happy to accept your offer to publicly say that your genocidal automobile is a leap forward for humanity. I’ll submit something to TED this afternoon.
By the way, I think I’m getting the hang of this business stuff. If our sales metrics look good, let’s huddle after the Gemini apocalypse to discuss next steps.