Engineering Social Justice into Traffic Control for Self-Driving Vehicles?

Abstract

The convergence of computing, sensing, and communication technology will soon permit large-scale deployment of self-driving vehicles. This will in turn permit a radical transformation of traffic control technology. This paper makes a case for the importance of addressing questions of social justice in this transformation, and sketches a preliminary framework for doing so. We explain how new forms of traffic control technology have potential implications for several dimensions of social justice, including safety, sustainability, privacy, efficiency, and equal access. Our central focus is on efficiency and equal access as desiderata for traffic control design. We explain the limitations of conventional traffic control in meeting these desiderata, and sketch a preliminary vision for a next-generation traffic control tailored to address better the demands of social justice. One component of this vision is cooperative, hierarchically distributed self-organization among vehicles. Another component of this vision is a priority system enabling selection of priority levels by the user for each vehicle trip in the network, based on the supporting structure of non-monetary credits.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Philosophical debate about the nature of social justice is deep and complex. For a reasonable survey of contemporary views, see (Pojman 2006). (Rawls 1971) is the starting point for a wealth of contemporary theorizing. Important competitors to Rawls’ theory include Neo-Lockeanism [e.g. (Nozick 1974)], welfarist consequentialism [e.g. (Goodin 1995)], egalitarianism [e.g., (Cohen 2011)], and the capabilities approach [e.g., (Nussbaum 2009)].

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Mladenovic, M.N., McPherson, T. Engineering Social Justice into Traffic Control for Self-Driving Vehicles?. Sci Eng Ethics 22, 1131–1149 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-015-9690-9

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Keywords

  • Traffic management
  • Self-driving vehicle
  • Engineering ethics
  • Transportation ethics
  • Priority level
  • Credit system