Thursday, September 12, 2019

How Virtue Signalling Makes Us Better: Moral Preferences with Respect to Autonomous Vehicle Type Choices

Kopecky, Robin, Michaela Košová, Daniel D. Novotný, Jaroslav Flegr, and David Černý. 2019. “How Virtue Signalling Makes Us Better: Moral Preferences with Respect to Autonomous Vehicle Type Choices.” PsyArXiv. September 11. doi:10.31234/

Autonomous vehicles (henceforth AVs) are expected to significantly benefit our transportation systems, their safety, efficiency, and impact on environment. However, many technical, social, legal, and moral questions and challenges concerning AVs and their introduction to the mass market still remain. One of the pressing moral issues has to do with the choice between AV types that differ in their built-in algorithms for dealing with situations of unavoidable lethal collision. In this paper we present the results of our study of moral preferences with respect to three types of AVs: (1) selfish AVs that protect the lives of passenger(s) over any number of bystanders; (2) altruistic AVs that minimize the number of casualties, even if this leads to death of passenger(s); and (3) conservative AVs that abstain from interfering in such situations even if it leads to the death of a higher number of subjects or death of passenger(s). We furthermore differentiate between scenarios in which participants are to make their decisions privately or publicly, and for themselves or for their offspring. We disregard gender, age, health, biological species and other characteristics of (potential) casualties that can affect the preferences and decisions of respondents in our scenarios. Our study is based on a sample of 2769 mostly Czech volunteers (1799 women, 970 men; age IQR: 25-32). The data come from our web-based questionnaire which was accessible from May 2017 to December 2017. We aim to answer the following two research questions: (1) Whether the public visibility of an AV type choice makes this choice more altruistic and (2) which type of situation is more problematic with regard to the altruistic choice: opting for society as a whole, for oneself, or for one’s offspring.
Our results show that respondents exhibit a clear preference for an altruistic utilitarian strategy for AVs. This preference is reinforced if the AV signals its strategy to others. The altruistic preference is strongest when people choose software for everybody else, weaker in personal choice, and weakest when choosing for one’s own child. Based on the results we conclude that, in contrast to a private choice, a public choice is considerably more likely to pressure consumers in their personal choice to accept a non-selfish solution, making it a reasonable and relatively cheap way to shift car owners and users towards higher altruism. Also, a hypothetical voting in Parliament about a single available program is less selfish when the voting does not take place in secret.

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