Philos. Technol. (2017) 30:547–558 DOI 10.1007/s13347-017-0284-0 C O M M E N TA RY
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving Christoph Luetge 1
Received: 24 August 2017 / Accepted: 29 August 2017 / Published online: 24 September 2017 # Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017
Abstract The ethics of autonomous cars and automated driving have been a subject of discussion in research for a number of years (cf. Lin 2015; Goodall in Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2424:58–65, 2014; Goodall in IEEE Spectrum 53(6):28–58, 2016). As levels of automation progress, with partially automated driving already becoming standard in new cars from a number of manufacturers, the question of ethical and legal standards becomes virulent. For example, while automated and autonomous cars, being equipped with appropriate detection sensors, processors, and intelligent mapping material, have a chance of being much safer than human-driven cars in many regards, situations will arise in which accidents cannot be completely avoided. Such situations will have to be dealt with when programming the software of these vehicles. In several instances, internationally, regulations have been passed, based on legal considerations of road safety, mostly. However, to date, there have been few, if any, cases of a broader ethics code for autonomous or automated driving preceding actual regulation and being based on a broadly composed ethics committee of independent experts. In July 2016, the German Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Alexander Dobrindt, appointed a national ethics committee for automated and connected driving, which began its work in September 2016. In June 2017, this committee presented a code of ethics which was published in German (with annotations, BMVI 2017a) and in English (cf. BMVI 2017b). It consists of 20 ethical guidelines. Having been a member of this committee, I will present the main ethical topics of these guidelines and the discussions that lay behind them. Keywords Automated driving . Autonomous cars . Road safety . Ethics of digitisation . Digital ethics . Self-driving cars For an overview of passed US bills, see http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/wiki/index.php/Automated_Driving:_ Legislative_and_Regulatory_Action.
Peter Loescher Chair of Business Ethics and Global Governance, Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany
1 Members and Procedure The ethics committee was composed of 14 members, three of which were professors of law, three were professors of ethics, and two were professors of technical disciplines. Among the others were two representatives of automotive companies, the president of the association of consumer protection groups, the president of the German automobile club ADAC, a Catholic bishop, and a former Public Prosecutor General. The chairman was Udo di Fabio, a former judge of the German Federal Constitutional Court. In addition, hearings with additional experts from technical, legal, and ethical disciplines were conducted, as well as a driving test with several (semi-) autonomous cars. The committee formed five working groups, which discussed the issues of Bunavoidable accident situations,^ Bdata security and data economics,^ Bhuman-machine interface,^ Bresponsibility for software and infrastructure,^ and Bethical context beyond traffic.^ Each of these groups prepared separate working papers. These papers were later integrated into the final code of ethics and its longer, annotated version (BMVI 2017a).
2 Levels of Automated Driving The committee used the classification of levels of automated driving by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA): 0 1 2 3 4 5
Driver only Assisted Partial driving automation High driving automation Full driving automation Driverless
This is similar to the levels of automated driving defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), though their wording is slightly different: 0 1 2 3 4 5
No driving automation Driver assistance Partial driving automation Conditional driving automation High driving automation Full driving automation
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), finally, draws levels 4 and 5 of the German system together into one. According to the German system, the committee saw themselves concerned mainly with levels 4 and 5, even if those are not yet realized, at least not fully. Thus, full driving automation and driverless cars were at the center of deliberation. In addition, the term Bconnected driving^ was used in order to highlight that ethical questions concerning the networking and informational linking of cars were also under consideration in the committee.
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving
3 The Code The code starts with some general remarks, ending in the following mission statement: BThe decision that has to be taken is whether the licensing of automated driving systems is ethically justifiable or possibly even imperative. If these systems are licensed – and it is already apparent that this is happening at international level – everything hinges on the conditions in which they are used and the way in which they are designed. At the fundamental level, it all comes down to the following question. How much dependence on technologically complex systems – which in the future will be based on artificial intelligence, possibly with machine learning capabilities – are we willing to accept in order to achieve, in return, more safety, mobility and convenience? What precautions need to be taken to ensure controllability, transparency and data autonomy? What technological development guidelines are required to ensure that we do not blur the contours of a human society that places individuals, their freedom of development, their physical and intellectual integrity and their entitlement to social respect at the heart of its legal regime?^ After this introduction, which puts human beings at the center of attention of ethics in technology, 20 ethical guidelines follow. I have grouped them into 10 clusters:
4 Introduction 4.1 Ethical Guideline 1 The primary purpose of partly and fully automated transport systems is to improve safety for all road users. Another purpose is to increase mobility opportunities and to make further benefits possible. Technological development obeys the principle of personal autonomy, which means that individuals enjoy freedom of action for which they themselves are responsible. The principle of personal autonomy is introduced here as a central principle for ethics of technology. It is indeed a key question for autonomous cars how personal autonomy and technological imperatives and constraints can be brought into a healthy relation. This question will come up frequently in the following.
5 General Ethical Benefits of Automated Driving 5.1 Ethical Guideline 2 The protection of individuals takes precedence over all other utilitarian considerations. The objective is to reduce the level of harm until it is completely prevented. The licensing of automated systems is not justifiable unless it promises to produce at least a diminution in harm compared with human driving, in other words a positive balance of risks.
The interesting point about this guideline is that it agrees with balancing risks against one another rather than with ruling out any calculation at all (as a pure deontological perspective might). The ethics code here sides with the view of ethics as reducing harm and achieving a net advantage over relevant alternatives. The committee agreed that autonomous cars carry ethical benefits with them, which is an important argument for their introduction (see section 6.2, though). These benefits also include the possibility of substantially improving mobility for handicapped people. 5.2 Ethical Guideline 3 The public sector is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the automated and connected systems introduced and licensed in the public street environment. Driving systems thus need official licensing and monitoring. The guiding principle is the avoidance of accidents, although technologically unavoidable residual risks do not militate against the introduction of automated driving if the balance of risks is fundamentally positive. This guideline stresses that an official license is needed for automated driving and cannot be left to the responsibility of car manufacturers alone. Acceptance among the population might be jeopardized if automated driving was not subjected to appropriate rules. 5.3 Ethical Guideline 4 The personal responsibility of individuals for taking decisions is an expression of a society centered on individual human beings, with their entitlement to personal development and their need for protection. The purpose of all governmental and political regulatory decisions is thus to promote the free development and the protection of individuals. In a free society, the way in which technology is statutorily fleshed out is such that a balance is struck between maximum personal freedom of choice in a general regime of development and the freedom of others and their safety. This guideline puts Bpersonal development^ and a Bfree society^ at the center of ethical attention, which should be promoted and not hindered by a technological advance. Free society is not specified any further, but can be interpreted as referring to democratic countries in a broad sense.
6 Unavoidable Dilemma Situations Dilemma situations are one of the key issues in much of the literature on automated and autonomous driving; they are extensively being debated with reference to the famous trolley cases (cf. Fournier 2016; Hevelke and Nida-Rümelin 2015; Gogoll and Müller 2017; Bonnefon et al. 2016). Guidelines 5 to 9 deal with situations of unavoidable accidents, and these rules were among the most controversially debated ones within the committee. 6.1 Ethical Guideline 5 Automated and connected technology should prevent accidents wherever this is practically possible. Based on the state of the art, the technology must be designed in such a way
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving
that critical situations do not arise in the first place. These include dilemma situations, in other words a situation in which an automated vehicle has to Bdecide^ which of two evils, between which there can be no trade-off, it necessarily has to perform. In this context, the entire spectrum of technological options—for instance from limiting the scope of application to controllable traffic environments, vehicle sensors, and braking performance, signals for persons at risk, right up to preventing hazards by means of Bintelligent^ road infrastructure—should be used and continuously evolved. The significant enhancement of road safety is the objective of development and regulation, starting with the design and programming of the vehicles such that they drive in a defensive and anticipatory manner, posing as little risk as possible to vulnerable road users. This is a relatively unproblematic guideline: In the literature about autonomous driving and trolley cases, much is said and reasoned about what to do when a situation is already unavoidable. Much less time, however, is usually devoted to the fact that automated and autonomous cars perform much better in trying to prevent these situations from arising, especially with regard to braking at the right time and with the right intensity. It is estimated that driverless cars could in this way reduce deaths on the road by up to 90% (cf. for example: https://www.sciencealert.com/driverless-carscould-reduce-traffic-fatalities-by-up-to-90-says-report). 6.2 Ethical Guideline 6 The introduction of more highly automated driving systems, especially with the option of automated collision prevention, may be socially and ethically mandated if it can unlock existing potential for damage limitation. Conversely, a statutorily imposed obligation to use fully automated transport systems or the causation of practical inescapabilty is ethically questionable if it entails submission to technological imperatives (prohibition on degrading the subject to a mere network element). While guideline 2 (and the first sentence of this guideline) stressed that highly automated driving is ethically desirable and even mandatory in general, other dangers might lie in the (still distant) future: at least fully automated driving should not be made mandatory, as it might submit subjects totally to a technological regime and thus reduce them—in a Kantian perspective—to mere means to an end. There was some controversy within the committee about this argument, as it follows that fully automated driving would be ethically questionable even if it further reduced the number of accidents, compared to highly automated driving. The guideline was however adopted eventually to work as a caveat and warning against taking the development too far without further reflection. 6.3 Ethical Guideline 7 In hazardous situations that prove to be unavoidable, despite all technological precautions being taken, the protection of human life enjoys top priority in a balancing of legally protected interests. Thus, within the constraints of what is technologically feasible, the systems must be programmed to accept damage to animals or property in a conflict if this means that personal injury can be prevented. This guideline simply states that damage to humans takes priority over damage to property and also eventually to animals. Higher animals were however given special
attention, as their protection has had constitutional status in Germany since 2002. Tricky cases might arise if cars’ detection equipment is eventually able to distinguish with near certainty between higher animals (especially smaller ones) and other obstacles on the road, or even between different classes of higher animals. However, the details of these questions were not considered to be top priority for the time being. 6.4 Ethical Guideline 8 Genuine dilemmatic decisions, such as a decision between one human life and another, depend on the actual specific situation, incorporating Bunpredictable^ behavior by parties affected. They can thus not be clearly standardized, nor can they be programmed such that they are ethically unquestionable. Technological systems must be designed to avoid accidents. However, they cannot be standardized to a complex or intuitive assessment of the impacts of an accident in such a way that they can replace or anticipate the decision of a responsible driver with the moral capacity to make correct judgements. It is true that a human driver would be acting unlawfully if he killed a person in an emergency to save the lives of one or more other persons, but he would not necessarily be acting culpably. Such legal judgements, made in retrospect and taking special circumstances into account, cannot readily be transformed into abstract/general ex ante appraisals and thus also not into corresponding programming activities. For this reason, perhaps more than any other, it would be desirable for an independent public sector agency (for instance, a Federal Bureau for the Investigation of Accidents Involving Automated Transport Systems or a Federal Office for Safety in Automated and Connected Transport) to systematically process the lessons learned. Consider the following situation: a human driver, faced with a split-second decision between hitting children playing by the roadside and driving over a cliff might choose to sacrifice herself. That would be a personal, intuitive decision, and it might also be the Bright^ result of a long philosophical deliberation. However, even if this were the case, such a decision of deliberately sacrificing specific lives should not be taken by a programmer. 6.5 Ethical Guideline 9 In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical, or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited. It is also prohibited to offset victims against one another. General programming to reduce the number of personal injuries may be justifiable. Those parties involved in the generation of mobility risks must not sacrifice non-involved parties. This guideline was debated controversially, and it was not adopted unanimously by the committee’s members. The difficult issue is to avoid a machine or code selecting targets according to personal characteristics (this is ruled out), however, still allowing for a programmer to programme a code which reduces the overall number of personal injuries—in whatever way. This is a complex problem, which is usually not as simple as selecting target A or B to be definitely killed. First, damage to property might be very substantial, as in the case of a power blackout for an entire city or an exploding fuel truck. But even if one decides, as the committee did, to opt for personal injuries always taking priority, there might be different probabilities for injuries or casualties of
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving
different targets. This could result in complicated situations in which it would not be ethical to forego the opportunity to reduce the overall Bdamage^ to persons. However, what the code explicitly does not say is that individual victims in different scenarios are allowed to be offset against each other. To some extent, this is the lesson of the German Luftsicherheitsgesetz (Aviation Security Act) being ruled unconstitutional by the German Federal Constitutional Court in 2006, in spite of opinions varying (see for example Isensee 2006) among judges and legal scholars to this day (and the committee could not reach a consensus in this matter regarding situations of imminent danger). In any case, the Aviation Security Act, which was later used in Ferdinand von Schirach’s famous play BTerror,^ would have allowed to shoot down hijacked aircraft which were thought to be used as weapons. In that case, individually known subjects would have been sacrificed for the sake of others. In the case of an anonymous programming, however, no victims are known individually in advance. Rather, it is an abstract guideline, the exact consequences of which cannot be foreseen, and which reduces the overall risk for all people affected by it (it could be regarded as similar to the risk that comes with vaccination). Such a guideline clarifies, to the extent possible, the situation for programmers by giving them a general ethical guideline. Not allowing non-involved parties to be sacrificed implies that it cannot be a general rule for a software code to unconditionally save the driver. However, the driver’s wellbeing cannot be put last, either.
7 Who Is Accountable? 7.1 Ethical Guideline 10 In the case of automated and connected driving systems, the accountability that was previously the sole preserve of the individual shifts from the motorist to the manufacturers and operators of the technological systems and to the bodies responsible for taking infrastructure, policy, and legal decisions. Statutory liability regimes and their fleshing out in the everyday decisions taken by the courts must sufficiently reflect this transition. 7.2 Ethical Guideline 11 Liability for damage caused by activated automated driving systems is governed by the same principles as in other product liability. From this, it follows that manufacturers or operators are obliged to continuously optimize their systems and also to observe systems they have already delivered and to improve them where this is technologically possible and reasonable. Guidelines 10 and 11 are very important ones, which will probably have more practical consequences than the rules concerning dilemma situations (as those situations tend to very rare). Rules 10 and 11 shift the accountability, which at the moment (see Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) and Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968)) still lies with the car’s owner, to the Bmanufacturers or operators^ of the car and its technological systems. It is clear that if the driver (or the car owner) cannot control the car fully in each single
situation and is not required to do so (from automation level 3 upward), he or she cannot be accountable anymore for the car’s behavior, but only the companies who built it or who are operating its relevant systems (for Volvo, cf. Korosec 2015). This guideline will certainly have enormous impact on insurance and other questions.
8 Public Information 8.1 Ethical Guideline 12 The public is entitled to be informed about new technologies and their deployment in a sufficiently differentiated manner. For the practical implementation of the principles developed here, guidance for the deployment and programming of automated vehicles should be derived in a form that is as transparent as possible, communicated in public, and reviewed by a professionally suitable independent body. The committee was convinced that public information about issues of automated cars is necessary and that one or several suitable independent bodies will be required to conduct this task (see also guideline 18). It does not have to be state-run but could be an NGO (such as, for example, consumer organizations) which would take over the task of critically monitoring companies’ actions.
9 Connected Driving: Safety and Security 9.1 Ethical Guideline 13 It is not possible to state today whether, in the future, it will be possible and expedient to have the complete connectivity and central control of all motor vehicles within the context of a digital transport infrastructure, similar to that in the rail and air transport sectors. The complete connectivity and central control of all motor vehicles within the context of a digital transport infrastructure is ethically questionable if, and to the extent that, it is unable to safely rule out the total surveillance of road users and manipulation of vehicle control. This guideline says that total surveillance, arising in the context of connected driving, might be ethically problematic, though it does not state what exactly should be done to prevent it. It is an issue that at the moment is probably not the most pressing one, even if public discussions at times circle around it. 9.2 Ethical Guideline 14 Automated driving is justifiable only to the extent to which conceivable attacks, in particular manipulation of the IT system or innate system weaknesses, do not result in such harm as to lastingly shatter people’s confidence in road transport. The issue of security against cyberattacks was high on the committee’s agenda, and it is an issue much discussed in public whether and how autonomous cars might be hacked and turned into weapons. While the general guideline is quite clear, there will be much work left to the details of programming.
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving
10 Data Protection 10.1 Ethical Guideline 15 Permitted business models that avail themselves of the data that are generated by automated and connected driving and that are significant or insignificant to vehicle control come up against their limitations in the autonomy and data sovereignty of road users. It is the vehicle keepers and vehicle users who decide whether their vehicle data that are generated are to be forwarded and used. The voluntary nature of such data disclosure presupposes the existence of serious alternatives and practicability. Action should be taken at an early stage to counter a normative force of the factual, such as that prevailing in the case of data access by the operators of search engines or social networks. Data protection and data sovereignty are probably one of the most discussed issues in big data ethics and ethics of digitization in general (cf. Floridi 2016) and with the committee no less. The baseline here is that data belong to the users and keepers of a car. They can voluntarily allow their data to be used by companies; however, what the code stresses is that there should be a systematic search for alternatives among search engines, social networks, or similar, in order to generate appropriate competition. Privacy by design was used as a guideline here for connected driving (cf. EU 2016). In the German annotations to the code, it is noted that benefits in terms of comforts are not sufficient to justify lack of privacy or neglect of data sovereignty.
11 Human-Machine Interface 11.1 Ethical Guideline 16 It must be possible to clearly distinguish whether a driverless system is being used or whether a driver retains accountability with the option of overruling the system. In the case of non-driverless systems, the human-machine interface must be designed such that at any time, it is clearly regulated and apparent on which side the individual responsibilities lie, especially the responsibility for control. The distribution of responsibilities (and thus of accountability), for instance with regard to the time and access arrangements, should be documented and stored. This applies especially to the humanto-technology handover procedures. International standardization of the handover procedures and their documentation (logging) is to be sought in order to ensure the compatibility of the logging or documentation obligations as automotive and digital technologies increasingly cross national borders. First, the code explicitly states that the driver can at any time voluntary overrule the system and drive by herself. This generated some controversy, since it might lead to additional risks. However, the committee decided that it is part of the conditio humana to take even (what might be termed as) Birrational^ decisions. Second, the problem of the human-machine interface is not to be underestimated: The handover procedures must be clear, unequivocal, and easy to handle. It must always be clear who is in charge, the driver or the machine. Data about these procedures must be appropriately stored. And the committee pleads for an international standardisation of these procedures.
11.2 Ethical Guideline 17 The software and technology in highly automated vehicles must be designed such that the need for an abrupt handover of control to the driver (Bemergency^) is virtually obviated. To enable efficient, reliable, and secure humanmachine communication and prevent overload, the systems must adapt more to human communicative behaviour rather than requiring humans to enhance their adaptive capabilities. This handover from machine must occur with a certain time lag and not be immediate. Second, it must be adapted to humans, not vice versa.
12 Learning Systems 12.1 Ethical Guideline 18 Learning systems that are self-learning in vehicle operation and their connection to central scenario databases may be ethically allowed if, and to the extent that, they generate safety gains. Self-learning systems must not be deployed unless they meet the safety requirements regarding functions relevant to vehicle control and do not undermine the guidelines established here. It would appear advisable to hand over relevant scenarios to a central scenario catalogue at a neutral body in order to develop appropriate universal standards, including any acceptance tests. Machine learning is an issue highly important for autonomous driving, since self-learning systems may lead to increased safety in a number of ways (cf. Kalra and Paddock 2016). A learning car might learn to avoid certain situations or congested routes. However, it is also a sensitive issue, since a self-learning system might evolve in ways that programmers have not thought of beforehand, as in the case of Microsoft’s bot Tay. 2 Therefore, the code only allows for self-learning in non-safety-critical matters, first. And second, the code calls for a neutral body to develop standards for such selflearning, its scenarios and acceptability. 12.2 Ethical Guideline 19 In emergency situations, the vehicle must autonomously, i.e., without human assistance, enter into a Bsafe condition.^ Harmonization, especially of the definition of a safe condition or of the handover routines, is desirable. If the autonomous car has to leave the autonomous mode, but the driver is unwilling or unable to take over control, the vehicle must enter into a safe condition. The currently still differing concepts of what is a safe condition should be harmonized: Does the car stop in the middle of the road or does it safely drive to the roadside by itself and stop there? This seems to make more sense.
The German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving
13 Driver Education 13.1 Ethical Guideline 20 The proper use of automated systems should form part of people’s general digital education. The proper handling of automated driving systems should be taught in an appropriate manner during driving tuition and tested. Appropriate changes to driver education will be necessary. The code leaves these changes still unspecific, but addresses the issue, which will have to be discussed in further detail in the future.
14 Concluding Remarks It remains to be seen what exact impact the ethics code will have on future legislation and regulation. But certainly, no legislation in Germany will be able to completely neglect or circumvent it. Also, it will be interesting to see whether a similar development takes place in the entire European Union. It would make much sense to take the same approach there and develop an ethics code for Europe. From an ethical point of view, in retrospect, it was interesting to see that the hiatus between different ethical approaches could be overcome. While there was considerable disagreement in the discussions, ultimately, in most questions, a consensus in practical matters could be reached—and in those questions where it could not be reached, this was noted too. Pluralism in ethics without hindering achieving an ethics code looks promising for future discussions.
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