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Avoiding the Intrinsic Unfairness of the Trolley Problem

Research group:

Publication Type:

Conference/Workshop Paper


FairWare '18 Proceedings of the International Workshop on Software Fairness Pages 32-37




As an envisaged future of transportation, self-driving cars are being discussed from various perspectives, including social, economical, engineering, computer science, design, and ethical aspects. On the one hand, self-driving cars present new engineering problems that are being gradually successfully solved. On the other hand, social and ethical problems have up to now being presented in the form of an idealized unsolvable decision-making problem, the so-called “trolley problem”, which is built on the assumptions that are neither technically nor ethically justifiable. The intrinsic unfairness of the trolley problem comes from the assumption that lives of different people have different values. In this paper, techno-social arguments are used to show the infeasibility of the trolley problem when addressing the ethics of selfdriving cars. We argue that different components can contribute to an “unfair” behaviour and features, which requires ethical analysis on multiple levels and stages of the development process. Instead of an idealized and intrinsically unfair thought experiment, we present real-life techno-social challenges relevant for the domain of software fairness in the context of self-driving cars


author = {Tobias Holstein and Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic},
title = {Avoiding the Intrinsic Unfairness of the Trolley Problem},
isbn = {978-1-4503-5746-3},
month = {June},
year = {2018},
booktitle = {FairWare '18 Proceedings of the International Workshop on Software Fairness Pages 32-37 },
url = {}