KITT vs. KARR | The Ethics of Self-Driving Cars through the Lens of the Iconic Hasselhoff Series of the 80’s, Knight Rider

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We live in the future. Don’t hassle me here. Yesteryear’s dreams of science fiction are today’s realities, including self-driving cars. But as technology vaults ahead, our ethics are struggling to keep up.

Watch this to understand the basic ethical issues at play.

Basically, who decides beforehand who has the right to live when an accident occurs? When people are behind the wheel, we react unpredictably. But when humans aren’t the drivers, those decisions belong to the car’s programming.

That brings us to Knight Rider. The 80’s saw this dilemma coming.

Back in the day, Wilton Knight and the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG) created artificial intelligence, plopped it into a 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am, and called it the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT). Along the way, this self-driving car was partnered with Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff’s character) with the goal of preserving human life on the grand scale.

But KITT had a predecessor, the Knight Automated Roving Robot (KARR). The prototype was programmed with self-preservation in mind.

Here’s a clip from the episode, KITT vs. KARR, highlighting some of the issues that we’re talking about.

The options in programming between KITT (preserve as much human life as possible) and KARR (self-preservation at all costs) are the same ones that programmers face today with real-life self-driving cars.

So which one do real people think should win?

According to the work of Jean-Francois Bonnefon at the Toulouse School of Economics in France, people think that KITT’s programming is best when it comes to cars that they don’t drive, but KARR’s is best when they have to be in the vehicle. So, basically, people are always more concerned with self-preservation.

So, unlike Knight Rider’s optimistic conclusions, in real life, KARR wins.

What do you think about self-driving cars? How do you believe they should be programmed?

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Mere Christianity | My Bible Study So Far…

I mentioned earlier this week that my men’s Bible study is going through Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. We just finished reading the first section of the book, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” As I always enjoy the discussions that arise from our readings, I thought I would share a bit with you.

I find if difficult (near impossible, really) to synopsize (new word I just made up) Lewis’ thoughts without trying to simply re-write the book word for word. He does such a good job of leading readers through the logical progression of a moral basis for the belief in a higher power that I suggest you just read the full version. However, since I set out to provide a bite-size version for my blog readers, I’ll have a go at it.

Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature | Humans believe that some morality is universally shared (like broken promises are not good), but we don’t always adhere to these universally shared morals (people still break promises).

Chapter 2: Some Objections | Isn’t what we are talking about really just our herd instinct, something that evolution put there? No, we are talking about the abandonment of self-preservation (an evolutionary idea) in favor or doing something good for a higher reason.

Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law | Stones follow the Law of Gravity when they fall; they have no choice in the matter. Humans live according to the Law of Human Nature when they interact with each other; they choose whether to do good or not. Some people say that decent conduct is determined not on an individual basis, but by the human race as a whole, as in the example that it is better for everyone if everyone is unselfish. But this breaks down when the individual is concerned. If you ask “Why should I care what is good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?” then you will have to say, “Because you ought to be unselfish”, which is circular logic. Just like if a person asks, “Why should I play football?” and a person responds, “In order to score the most points.” That isn’t why at all, it is simply part of the game. The fact that the game exists is because someone came up with it. Accordingly, the concept of morality exists because something came up with it, and it cannot be ourselves because it existed before we were born, and it cannot be an evolutionary trait, because then we would always act as we ought to act (which we don’t).

Chapter 4: What Lies Behind the Law | The question is this: Is the universe the way it is for no particular reason or is there a power that designed it to be what it is? If it exists, the power cannot be part of what is observable any more than an architect of the house can be a wall or a fireplace in the house. So how can we find this higher power? If we observe nature scientifically, we can see the truth of how things happen, but not why things happen. The only evidence that we have about why humans behave as humans do is because we are humans. Is it a coincidence then that in the only place where we can observe whether a higher power created a system of ethics, we find that one exists? We aren’t yet to the point of believing in a Christian God yet, simply that some power has determined a system of morality for us to either abide by or feel bad when we do not.

Chapter 5: We Have Cause to be Uneasy | If you feel like I am tricking you into believing in the Christian God, that was not my intention. I am simply pointing out the way things seem to be. If you think that we have tried the religious thing before and we can’t turn the clock back, consider that when you are going the wrong direction, the most sensible thing to do is turn around. Secondly, all we have so far is that something like a mind that is outside of our universe has designed things in a way that proves morality by showing our immorality, nowhere near the Christian God yet. Thirdly, my reason for the roundabout way was to show the existence of depravity in order to show the need for forgiveness. You do not go to the doctor until you realize that you are sick. The Christian religion responds to the facts that we have been presented with, but they are not always the comfort that people imagine them to be. We still have to face the fact that the world is a dangerous place, that people both love goodness (when they experience it) and hate goodness (when they choose to be mean), and that if there is a higher power that provided us with a sense of morality, then we have bungled it up completely and we’ll have to answer to that in some way.

So, there’s what we’ve gone through so far. Mere Christianity is one of the few non-fiction books that I genuinely enjoy. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. If you want to join our Bible study in an online way, comment below and we’ll include you in emails and such.

Do you have thoughts that you want to share based on my poor synopses above? Please do. Let’s start a discussion!

And if you find this sort of thing interesting, here are some links that you might like as well:

An Atheist Converts to Catholicism – Why? The Moral Argument

The God Debates: Genuinely Intelligent Discussion on Theological Questions

Mere Inkling: A place where faith, history & writing converge.

The C. S. Lewis Institute

Thanks for reading!

P. S.  I’m still looking for guest posts.

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!