Will computer-driven vehicles kill us?

As anyone who has seen the film Rain Man knows, the Australian flag-carrier, Qantas, has never had a fatal accident.

(Qantas)

But it has come close, as this story in Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend magazine relates. And the incident described has implications beyond aviation.

The computer systems on the Airbus 330-300 operating as QF72 in October 2008 malfunctioned in a way that nearly killed everybody aboard. Only the skill of the crew saw the plane land safely, albeit with dozens of injured passengers.

As writer Matt O’Sullivan points out, it’s not just planes that rely on automated systems; all manner of vehicles do.

With driverless cars just around the corner, we really have to think long and hard about how much we want to rely on computers to keep us safe.

As I note here, the problem with driverless vehicles is that we accept human error as a reason for fatal car crashes, but we may not accept it if these deaths are caused by robots.

There is more on this subject here and at the Moral Machine website, a project from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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