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People hanging off a streetcar. Photo: Lisa Larsen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The "trolley problem" sets up a quandary: whether to let a trolley stay the course and hit numerous people, or redirect it and hit just one person. Recently, researchers have designed similar thought experiments around AVs.

Why it matters: AVs are being taught to drive safely and avoid harm entirely, just as human drivers are. But media coverage of these experiments, which assume unrealistic expectations for AV technology and suggest that AVs really could face such choices, may be contributing to public distrust in AVs.

What’s happening: In a recent MIT study, thousands of participants were asked whether an AV should kill a driver or a pedestrian, a homeless man or an executive, and so on, sorting people into categories as specific as male athlete, female doctor, small child, or baby in a stroller.

  • Participants' choices were assembled into a preference scale, ranking who is most preferable to spare or kill.
  • This study and earlier research have been widely publicized as capturing essential ethical insights that should be built into AVs.

The National Science Foundation, meanwhile, funded a group of philosophers working on computer modeling of how AVs could respond to different scenarios, depending on their ethical coding.

Between the lines:

  • There is no evidence that human drivers encounter instant decisions between two fatal outcomes with no alternative options. Programming AVs to anticipate such scenarios would not improve safety.
  • "Driverless dilemmas" mischaracterize AV capabilities. It's unlikely an AV could detect personal details, let alone a person's profession. Instead, AVs are being taught to track everything around them, and swerve or slow down to avoid hitting anyone.
  • Publicity of this research could be contributing to public distrust of AVs. It suggests that AVs will be unrealistically influenced by the ethics of their developers.

Yes, but: While AVs are not likely to face forced-choice ethical dilemmas, they may be taught to prioritize detecting and avoiding vulnerable road users, like pedestrians, over stationary objects, like parked cars.

  • In that sense, ethical choices would factor into programming, but in a context that aligns with how people are taught to drive in order to avoid harm.

Sam Anthony is co-founder and CTO of Perceptive Automata. Julian De Freitas is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University.

Go deeper: Read the full paper responding to driverless dilemmas.

Go deeper

Business travel might be going out of style

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies have made it a year and a half mostly without traveling for work — and now more and more of them are considering dramatically reducing business travel to slash costs and cut carbon emissions.

Why it matters: Business travel is a massive part of the global economy — with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs at airlines, hotels and travel agencies hinging on its return.

Local Florida leaders eye ways to take on DeSantis' anti-mask stance

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With Florida at the forefront of the nation's COVID surge, local governments across Tampa Bay are wondering if — or how — they can subvert Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration to do something to slow the spread.

Why it matters: A day after Florida broke its record for daily cases, it did the same for the total number of COVID hospitalizations — set way back in July 2020, per the AP.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Simone BIles competing on the balance beam. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

🥉: Simone Biles wins bronze in individual balance beam final, her last event

🪧: Raven Saunders says U.S. athletes planned "X" protests "for weeks"

🇺🇸: Former dancer Valarie Allman wins U.S. 1st Olympic track and field gold

🏅: Norwegian gold medalist, U.S. silver medalist smash men's 400m hurdles world record

🏋️‍♀️: Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard: "It gets better"

📷: In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 11 highlights

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage