Morals for driverless cars
In a scene right out of ‘The Good Place’, researchers have asked millions of people across the world what they think a driverless car should do in the face of an unavoidable accident.
Scenarios involved pitting old against young, fit against unfit, and jaywalkers against law-abiding pedestrians. The researchers found a number of shared moral preferences across countries, including sparing the most number of lives, prioritising young people and valuing humans over other animals.
University of Otago's Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan said these 'trolley problems' were "philosophically fascinating, but until now, they’re rarely been much of a concern for law".
"Most drivers will never have to face such a stark dilemma, and those who do will not have time to think through consequentialist and deontological ethics before swerving or braking!"
University of Auckland Associate Professor Alex Sims told The AM Show: "we need rules".
"It would be unconscionable for people to drive cars that were programmed to ensure that the occupant's safety was put ahead of everyone else's. For example, a car cannot be programmed to run three people over to avoid the car's sole occupant crashing into a parked car."
Sims wrote on Sciblogs that while the researchers had sought to find if universal machine ethics were possible, and did find some common preferences, they argued that each country set its own ethics.
"What happens when you drive a car from one country to another country with different rules? The car would be required to update its operating system to adjust to the new countries rules, which would not necessarily always go smoothly."
Unitec's Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh said that one aspect not taken into account was that future roads "may not be the same roads we are using today".
"Even if we use similar roads, they will be heavily sensored, intelligent roads. They will certainly be much safer, although these ethical dilemmas will remain if the same roads are used."
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.
Quoted: NZ Herald
"People often focus on the genetics bit and assume that it's boring or complicated, or they don't see the connection to conservation.
"In reality, the genetics of threatened
species has an important part to play in their survival."
Callaghan Medal winner Dr Helen Taylor on her approach to communicating science around genetics and conservation.
In the latest update from the Wellington Kids’Cam study – which aimed to see the world through the eyes of children – it seems Kiwis are slipping in their sun-smart behaviour.
The University of Otago
study fitted cameras to 168 children in the Wellington
region aged between 11 and 13, which recorded the
children’s environment over four days. The data gathered
included images of 2,635 children and adults in outdoor
areas including beaches, playgrounds and outdoor
In a new paper, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the researchers found only 4.3 per cent of people wore sun-protective hats, and only 10.7 per cent were under shade at times when sun protection was warranted.
Lead author Ryan Gage told Newstalk ZB more people die from melanoma every year than in car accidents, with 90,000 annual diagnoses and 500 deaths from skin cancer - many of which are caused by overexposure to the sun.
Gage told Newshub New Zealand doesn’t have a sustained sun safety programme, “in contrast, in Australia, they have run a sustained programme over the last 30 years or so”.
“However, in New Zealand, we haven’t seen a campaign like that since about 2008.”
Cancer Society CEO Mike Kernaghan told Stuff the results were, unfortunately, unsurprising. “Apart from what [we’re] doing with programmes like SunSmart Schools, there’s little else in the way of sustained, national campaigns. Yet we have the highest rate of melanoma in the world.”
Christchurch group SkinCan announced this week it will provide free sunscreen dispensers at three sites across the city this summer, which they believe is the first time the approach has been tried in New Zealand.
More information about the study is on scimex.org.
Our final two-day science media training workshop for the year will be held in Wellington next month.
Applications close on Monday
for our flagship media training, being held in
• Wellington, Royal Society Te Apārangi
Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public.
Ideally suited for researchers with previous media
experience seeking further development of their skills, as
well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work.
Applications close Monday, 29
Policy news & developments
Views on whitebait: The Government is seeking the public's views on whitebait management via an online survey and drop-in sessions around the country to help inform a report.
Indigenous biodiversity: A new report has recommended improvements to biodiversity management, including greater recognition of Te Ao Māori in decision making, as well as better monitoring, compliance and information.
Record fine under Fair Trading Act: Steel & Tube has been fined a record $1.9m for breaching the Fair Trading Act for misleading representations about its steel mesh products, used in construction to provide strength and stability in earthquakes.
NZTA re-evaluations: The NZ Transport Agency has re-evaluated SH2 from Waihi to Tauranga, Otaki to North of Levin, and SH15 from Whangarei to Warkworth, and outlined planned safety improvements and expansions.
Abortion law advice: Following a request for advice on treating abortion as a health matter instead of an issue for the Crimes Act, Justice Minister Andrew Little has received the Law Commission's briefing paper.
Hazardous substances review: The EPA is funding an independent technical working group to recommend changes to the hazardous substances compliance and enforcement system.
Food recall regulations: The Ministry for Primary Industries is seeking feedback on proposals to strengthen food recalls and improve risk-based plans and programmes.
Crackdown on online medicines: Medsafe has released findings of Operation PANGEA XI – a global crackdown on the trade in illicit medicines.
Captive whio breeding: A
captive breeding programme has begun on the West Coast for
This week on the NZ
One year on for Ardern’s coalition government in New Zealand
Richard Shaw, Massey University
New Zealand politics: foreign donations and
Simon Chapple, Victoria University of Wellington
See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.
What we've been reading
With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.
'The gender thing'
Writing for North & South, Jenny Nicholls covers two new studies that promise to throw a lifeline to trans New Zealand, one of the most marginalised and under-served populations in medicine.
Trap tensions expose haphazard kea
David Williams' thorough investigation and use of the Official Information Act examined an internal battle at DOC over the use of self-resetting traps.
A Lesson of Hurricane Michael: Our
Policymakers are Failing Us
The devastating storm underscored a cruel irony: science-informed policy is being shunned in the US states where it’s needed the most, writes doctoral student Darien Alexander Williams for Undark.
The people who moved to
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 left a ring of ghost villages as residents fled, fearing radiation poisoning. But now people fleeing fighting in Ukraine are choosing to live in the crumbling houses on the edge of the exclusion zone, writes Zhanna Bezpiatchuk for BBC.
New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Marsden Fund research is searching for the genetic signature
of Tuberculosis bacteria in ancient human and animal remains
from across the country.
Rawlence outlines why taxonomy is so important and ways we
might make it great again.
Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives
Grant Jacobs traces a shocking photo
of a deer covered in tumours to its origin, and finds no
mention of glyphosate or RoundUp - which some claimed had
caused the tumours.
Code for life
Hoek and Philip Gendall discuss their recent study that
examined how flavour capsule cigarettes appeal to
non-smokers and smokers.
Public Health Expert
Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and
• Curators for equality: 27 October, Wellington. Te Papa curators Katie Cooper and Matariki Williams discuss the new exhibition Doing It for Themselves: Women Fight for Equality and how objects connect history with modern experiences.
• Artificial intelligence in NZ: 30 October, Dunedin. Researchers from the University of Otago’s AI and Law in New Zealand project, members of Otago’s Centre for AI and Public Policy, and speakers from local tech companies discuss AI's impact on employment, government and medicine.
• Evolving biotech: 30 Oct: Wellington. Victoria Professor of Biotechnology David Ackerley discusses how he has evolved enzymes to detoxify environmental pollutants, improve cancer gene therapies, or produce pigments for biosensors.
• Frogs are our future: 30 October, Dunedin. Frogs are barometers of the health of the environment and if their populations start to struggle, then we will surely follow, zoology Professor Phil Bishop says.
• Science in the Chathams: 30 October and 1 November, Chatham Islands. Otago Museum and Dodd-Walls Centre scientists will run two events covering science, space and stargazing in the Chathams: one at Hotel Chathams, and a second at Kopinga Marae.
• The future of humanity: 31 October, Auckland; 2 November, Wellington; 3 November, Christchurch. World-renowned physicist and futurist Dr Michio Kaku, the co-founder of String Theory, heads on a 3-city NZ tour to answer questions on the latest developments in String Theory, astronomy, futurism, and interplanetary colonisation.
• A synthesized universe: 31 October-3 November, Dunedin. Dunedin musician Anthonie Tonnon combines both electronic and traditional instrumentalism with theatricality, storytelling and physical movement in Otago Museum's planetarium.
• Food's hidden dangers: 31 October, Dunedin. In this talk, Robert Tauxe of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will discuss how things like DNA sequencing are making food safer for everyone.
• Climate change lessons from Greenland: 1 November, Wellington. Deep ice cores from Greenland contain information on past climate and sea level changes that goes back more than 130,000 years, including clues on how Antarctica responded - which hint at what might happen in future climate change.