Out in Front: ION-ITM addresses ethics of autonomy

February 22, 2016  - By
Attention-grabbing graphic from “Navigating Autonomous Requirements” at ION-ITM.

Attention-grabbing graphic from “Navigating Autonomous Requirements” at ION-ITM.

The talk veered off into rather heady philosophical realms at the plenary session for ION’s International Technial Meeting in late January. Two of the three speakers had been encouraged to go well outside the box — and not to employ any equations in doing so — to address or envision the autonomously navigated future.

We are caught in the act of seeing ourselves become obsolete, at least behind the steering wheel of an automobile. The Google driverless car has logged more than a million miles, exploring the traffice terrain that will soon be home to millions of autonomous vehicles. What has it found? That the human in the loop (HiL) is the biggest source of error and catastrophe.

There remain a few technical issues to sort out before this particular future is upon us. One of these, one that excites John Fischer of Spectracom, is the time-sensitive network concept: a standard and securable network that provides a platform for connecting critical system infrastructure with IT features. These networks deal in velocity accuracies of centimeters per millisecond, The V2V and V2X (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-network) systems that will support autonomous driving must reduce latency to nearly imperceptible levels for functions like crash avoidance and lane awareness to work reliably.

We were encouraged to consider the ethics of autonomous navigation by Mikel Miller of the Air Force Research Lab, Sensors Directorate. Once the vehicle becomes autonomous, it decides for the driver — including life or death choices.

Imagine a situation that could actually happen less than a decade from now. Riding in a driverless car on a curving coast highway, you round a curve to see a group of children crossing the road. Detecting them, the car begins to brake, but quickly calculates it cannot stop in time. Programmed to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other vehicles, it is also programmed to protect its passengers. It must choose between carnage on the highway or driving you off the adjacent cliff into the ocean.

Which to choose? Four lives versus one. Other ethical dilemmas have arisen in the history of GPS, GNSS, and precise PNT, chiefly concerning privacy. We are about to enter a more difficult realm.

This article is tagged with , , , , and posted in From the Magazine, Opinions, UAV/UGV

About the Author:

Alan Cameron is editor-in-chief and publisher of GPS World magazine, where he has worked since 2000. He also writes the monthly GNSS Design & Test e-Newsletter and the Wide Awake blog.

1 Comment on "Out in Front: ION-ITM addresses ethics of autonomy"

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  1. Wiliam K. says:

    If they have discovered that humans are the major source of acident causes then it is logical to raise the requirements for being allowed to drive. Right now, at least in Michigan, if one has the $16 fee one gets a license. Making the test a lot more comprehensive would be a start, Also, add a test on the ability to focus on the single task of driving. Demanding the ability to focus attention would be an even better addition to the tests. If an individual is not able to focus their attention onto the driving task, it is unlikely that they are able to be a safe driver.