Until the arrival of the motor car, the street belonged to humans and horses. The motor car was regarded as an interloper, and was generally blamed for collisions with pedestrians. Cities introduced speed limits and other safety measures to protect pedestrians from the motor car.
The motor industry fought back. Their goal was to shift the blame for collisions onto the foolish or foolhardy pedestrian, who had crossed the road in the wrong place at the wrong time, or showed insufficient respect to our new four-wheeled masters. A new crime was invented, known as jaywalking, and newspapers were encouraged to describe road accidents in these terms.
In March 2018, a middle-aged woman was killed by a self-driving car. This is thought to be the first recorded death by a fully autonomous vehicle. According to the US National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB), the vehicle failed to recognise her as a pedestrian because she was not at an obvious designated crossing. In other words, she was jaywalking.
As I’ve observed before, ethics professors like to introduce the Trolley Problem into the ethics of self-driving cars, often carrying out opinion surveys (whom shall the vehicle kill?) because these are easily published in peer-reviewed journals. A recent study at MIT found that many people thought law-abiding pedestrians had more right to safety than jaywalkers. Therefore, if faced with this unlikely choice, the car should kill the jaywalker and spare the others. You have been warned.
Update Nov 2020
According to the New York Times, the motor industry is concerned that
if pedestrians know they’ll never be run over, jaywalking could explode, grinding traffic to a halt. One solution, suggested by an automotive industry official, is gates at each corner, which would periodically open to allow pedestrians to cross.
To compensate for the failures of technology, comments Greg Shill. In a later tweet he notes
Auto companies spent a century establishing a reputation for prioritizing the sale of their products—in other words, profits—over safety and other goals, and automated vehicles stand to continue that trend. Trust is earned.
— Greg Shill (@greg_shill) November 9, 2020
Jack Denton, Is the Trolley Problem Derailing the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars? (Pacific Standard 29 November 2018)
Aidan Lewis, Jaywalking: How the car industry outlawed crossing the road(BBC News, 12 February 2014)
Aarian Marshall and Alex Davies, Uber’s Self-Driving Car Didn’t Know Pedestrians Could Jaywalk (Wired, 11 November 2020) HT @rickspence
Peter Norton, Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street (Technology and Culture, Vol 48, April 2007)
Katyanna Quach, Remember the Uber self-driving car that killed a woman crossing the street? The AI had no clue about jaywalkers (The Register, 6 November 2019)
Joseph Stromberg, The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of “jaywalking” (Vox, 4 November 2015)
Eric A Taub, How Jaywalking Could Jam Up the Era of Self-Driving Cars (New York Times, 1 August 2019) HT @greg_shill
Related posts: Whom Does The Technology Serve? (May 2019), The Game of Wits between Technologists and Ethics Professors (June 2019)
Updated 13 November 2020