The German transport minister said on Wednesday that the pioneering legal guidelines would mostly consider the protection of people rather than property and animals.
“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalization and self-learning systems,” said Alexander Dobrindt, adding, “The ministry's ethics commission has pioneered the cause and drawn up the world's first set of guidelines for automated driving.”
The German parliament passed legislation earlier this year that allowed automated driving in situations that the driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the vehicles. The law allowed authorities to work on guidelines that could regulate the driverless cars on the roads.
The most intriguing task in the process was to introduce rules that could give priority to the safety of people rather than other objects. The government appointed a committee comprising experts in ethics, law and technology to devise rules that carmakers should use in programming cars so that they could avoid injury or death of people at all cost.
In fact, under the ethical guidelines, the car should be able to deal with various ethical dilemmas, like how it should choose between hitting a cyclist or accelerating beyond legal speeds to avoid an accident or which action it should take to inflict the least harm on people, even if that means destroying property or hitting animals in the road.
Major German car producers, including world-famous brands such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have been busy over the years to work out new solutions for the self-driving technology. Reports say the three giant carmakers have all invested heavily in the field in a bid to protect their pioneering status in the future market of driverless cars.