With Google’s driverless cars now street legal in California, Florida, and Nevada, Gary Marcus for the New Yorker ponders a world where machines need a built-in morality system.
That moment will be significant not just because it will signal the end of one more human niche, but because it will signal the beginning of another: the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems. Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.
Data analysis seems to be headed in the same direction. Where machines will have to start making human-like decisions, data represents more of the real world and looks less like snippets in time. As the gap between numbers and what they represent shrinks, the more we have to think about ethics, privacy, and whether or not what we’re doing is right.