February 1, 2018

Ethical, legal and social aspects of automated vehicles are priority issues, say top D.C. experts

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Some of the nation’s leading experts in automated vehicles discussed the ethical, legal and social implications of the technology in Washington, D.C., on Thursday (Jan. 25).

Examining the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of a Driverless Future” featured academic, industry and legislative experts, as well as safety advocates. This event was part of the Global Challenges Roundtable Series organized by Purdue University's Discovery Park and The Howard Baker Forum, and it took place at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

“We are already using automation to some degree in many vehicles on the road today, so the adoption of higher levels – or even full automation – may be closer than many people expect,” said S. Laurel Weldon, director of the Purdue Policy Research Institute. “On the other hand, there are social, ethical and legal implications that we have not fully worked out. These must be addressed now before we have a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles on the road and a slew of societal problems that are difficult to address after the fact.”

The event provided an overview of automated vehicles. One panel focused on social and ethical issues, and a second panel on legal and regulatory matters that examined issues such as how to handle risks, privacy, liability and insurance questions.

“This Global Challenges workshop brought together leaders from academia, government and the private sector to discuss pressing ethical, legal and societal issues facing the future of autonomous transportation,” said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, chief scientist and executive director of Discovery Park. “Only by bringing all these constituencies together into an open dialogue focused on crafting of real-world, practical solutions to these pressing issues, will we be able to reach the ultimate goal of safe deployment and public adoption of autonomous vehicle systems.”

Other highlights from the event included:

* Safety issues emerged as critical to the adoption of this new technology. Automation offers the prospect of greater safety as human error is reduced but also presents some new safety challenges. 

* Participants received an update on the status of the AV-Start Bill, the current legislative effort to address automated vehicles.

* New research on workforce issues is likely to be forthcoming in the next few months, participants reported.

A preliminary research brief and other information featuring these topics is available online. A follow-up report from the workshop will be available within a month. Over the next year, Discovery Park and The Howard Baker Forum will undertake new research on the main issues to emerge from the workshop over the next year, beginning with safety and potentially including workforce issues and ethical issues arising from the design of algorithms used in autonomous vehicles. They will then sponsor a follow-up set of mini-workshops aimed at delving deeper into these issues. Working groups involving participants from academia, industry and policy experts will discuss the bigger questions that emerge as legislators and scientists grapple with this new technology. Purdue’s Policy Research Institute (PPRI), which will lead Purdue’s participation in the new research, plans to produce a larger report a year from now that will present conclusions from this on-going analysis and discussion, and associated work on best practices, to the public. A follow-up session in Washington, D.C., is planned for next year.

During the event, opening remarks were provided by Scott Campbell, president of the The Howard Baker Forum, and Díaz de la Rubia, executive director and chief scientist, Purdue Discovery Park.

Sessions included:

* “What is the Current State of Connected and Autonomous Transportation Vehicles?” Moderated by Tomás Díaz de la Rubia. The panel featured Andy Dubner, business leader of 3M’s Connected Roads Program and innovation, and policy leaders from leading automobile companies.

* “The Ethical and Social Issues Facing Connected and Autonomous Transportation Vehicles.” Moderated by S. Laurel Weldon. Panelists included Jonathan Weinberger, vice president of innovation and technology at Auto Alliance, and Noah Goodall, research scientist from the Virginia Transportation Research Council.

* “The Legal and Regulatory/Legislative Issues Facing Connected and Autonomous Transportation Vehicles.” Moderated by Bruce Doeg, chief strategic officer at Baker Donelson. Panelists included Karlyn Stanley, adjunct senior researcher, Rand Corporation; and Cherilyn Pascoe, adviser to Sen. John Thune, chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources: Laurel Weldon, weldons@purdue.edu

Tomas Diaz de la Rubia, tddlr@purdue.edu

Caitlin Surakitbanharn, Purdue Policy Research Institute, caitlins@purdue.edu

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