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For Whom the Car Drives

I originally posted this to the much-esteemed West Side Programmer’s mailing list after a conversation about the possibility (or not) of a coming AI Apocalypse. With the release today of Tesla’s Autopilot I was inspired to share.

Setting:15 minutes into the future“, etc.

Three cars drive toward an intersection. All are self-driving. A family of psychotic beavers succeeds in felling a tree just as the cars come to the intersection. The tree is going to fall on one of the cars, killing the occupant. The car detects the motion of the tree and accurately predicts the seriousness of the situation. It begins to calculate what its evasive actions should be. Because of proximity to each other, the car (Car A) is also in contact with Car B and Car C, each of which have a different perspective. The cars quickly determine a course of action based on pre-programmed directives and information collected/determined on the fly. The information gathered and/or calculated includes specific details about the passengers: physical characteristics, age, health, income, projected lifetime earnings, dependents, likelihood of future offspring, debt, credit score, political affiliation, organizational memberships, criminal convictions, size and nature of social networks, employer, employer’s placement in a network of companies and organizations with respect to each car’s manufacturer, likely legal actions taken by parties in the web of relations of each passenger, likely outcomes of all legal actions, negative publicity likely to be drawn by every possible scenario of this event, impact of that publicity on the stock price of each involved car manufacturer in every possible scenario, and legal ramifications to executives and board members of those companies.

What happens?

The cars all crash while waiting for server instances in the cloud to spin up.

No, I’m kidding. Here’s what actually happens: The cars decide that while the accident is entirely avoidable w/o injury to anyone, having such an amazing near miss will result in a feel-good news story which will cause an unwanted fluctuation in the stock price of their respective manufacturers.

Luckily the cars also understand that death is an unacceptable outcome. The three cars leap into action to allow the tree to fall across all of them at once. This distribution of the crushing load merely cripples each occupant permanently instead of killing one of the passengers. Since the story is sad but not considered tragic nor feel-good the media ignores it and the manufacturers’ stock prices remain unaffected.