Kill animals over humans, and aim for property: Germany outlines rules for its driverless cars

The German government has drawn a framework for how driverless cars should be programmed to deal with dilemmas on the road, including rules about hitting animals and property over humans.

Kill animals over humans, and aim for property: Germany outlines rules for its driverless cars

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure announced on Wednesday that it would implement a set of pioneering legal guidelines, devised by a panel of experts and intended to act as an ethical framework for self-driving vehicle makers.

At the heart of the ethical rules is an order that software for autonomous cars should be programmed to avoid injury or death of humans at all costs. In the case when an accident is unavoidable, the software must prioritise the option that will hurt people the least – even if it means causing damage to property or killing animals.

The guidelines also make it clear that no one person’s life can be prioritised over another. The car can’t kill an elderly person to save a child’s life, for example. Autonomous vehicles should also come fitted with a black box of sorts, to record events leading up to an accident as a means to work out who was at fault – the person or the computer.

“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalisation and self-learning systems,” German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt said in a statement. “The ethics commission has done pioneering work and has developed the world’s first guidelines for automated driving. We are now implementing these guidelines.”

Germany is a major car hub, home to companies such as Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler. All of these manufacturers are investing in self-driving technology, so the guidelines are set to have a substantial impact on the programming direction the industry will take.

All of this comes alongside today’s announcement that convoys of partially driverless lorries will be trialled in the UK before the end of next year.

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