When the computer is the ‘driver’

We’re familiar with the recent US declarations that “corporations are people too”. It now turns out that some cars are “people” as well.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed with Google that Google’s self-driving car has “no need for a human driver”. In its place,

“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants.”

This should hurry us along the path to answering the questions that come from this.

  • Who gets the ticket when the self-driving car runs a stop sign or changes lanes without signaling?
  • Who gets sued when the self-driving car stops unexpectedly and causes an accident?
  • Will the self-driving car be “licensed”? By whom — by each state, as licenses are now issued? by the federal government, creating the first national driver’s license in the US? by Google, using an international driver’s license?

There are many, many more questions to be answered here before these computers become “people”. I wonder if anyone is asking.

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