Our Driverless Futures: Speculating Moral Dilemmas of Self-Driving Cars

Lorina Navarro, Georgia Institute of Technology

Boston 2017: Design and Planning

“Our Driverless Futures” is a web-based interactive narrative that critically examines the ethical implications of self-driving cars. In public and scholarly discourse, self-driving cars are often positioned as safer and more efficient transportation alternatives, with one prominent debate remaining in their programming: how should they react in an inevitable fatal accident, and whose lives should they prioritize to save? However, this focus on “kill decisions” has limited the terms of discourse to utilitarian ethics and normative classifications of people. Moreover, as discussed by scholars in critical algorithm studies, relegating moral decision-making to algorithms introduces yet to be seen issues of discrimination, transparency, accountability, and surveillance. Informed by STS and feminist discourses, “Our Driverless Futures” advances a critical reflection on algorithmic morality and its consequences. It does so by putting its audience in the shoes of a car buyer confronted with the decision of programming their car in choosing whose lives to save. Along the way, the players navigate various perspectives on self-driving cars from car manufacturers, human rights activists, social media commenters and victims of accidents thus serving both as a provocative piece and a scholarly argument that engages familiar themes in STS such as blackboxing, categorization and scientific facts. By unpacking potential eventualities and contestations into narrative form, “Our Driverless Futures” attempts to raise humanistic concerns beyond solutionist framings of ambiguous new technologies, question the “view from nowhere” of moral algorithms, and encourage discussions of alternative, equitable and inclusive modes of public transportation.

Published: 01/30/2023