Conference Papers  |    |  February 2, 2018

Introducing Ethical Thinking About Autonomous Vehicles Into an AI Course

Conference paper by Heidi Furey and Fred Martin.
Presented at the 2018 Eighth AAAI Symposium on Educational Advances in Artificial Intelligence.


A computer science faculty member and a philosophy faculty member collaborated in the development of a one-week introduction to ethics which was integrated into a traditional AI course. The goals were to:

  1. Encourage students to think about the moral complexities involved in developing accident algorithms for autonomous vehicles
  2. Identify what issues need to be addressed in order to develop a satisfactory solution to the moral issues surrounding these algorithms
  3. Offer students an example of how computer scientists and ethicists must work together to solve a complex technical and moral problems

The course module introduced Utilitarianism and engaged students in considering the classic “Trolley Problem,” which has gained contemporary relevance with the emergence of autonomous vehicles. Students used this introduction to ethics in thinking through the implications of their final projects. Results from the module indicate that students gained some fluency with Utilitarianism, including a strong understanding of the Trolley Problem. This short paper argues for the need of providing students with instruction in ethics in AI course. Given the strong alignment between AI’s decision-theoretic approaches and Utilitarianism, we highlight the difficulty of encouraging AI students to challenge these assumptions.

About the Authors

  • Heidi Furey, Manhattan College, Philosophy
  • Fred Martin, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Computer Science