The Famous Trolley Problem

The "Trolley Dilemma" (or the "Trolley Problem") consists of a series of hypothetical scenarios developed by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. Each scenario presents an extreme environment that tests the subject's ethical prowess. In 1985, American philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson scrutinized and expanded on Foot's ideas in The Yale Law Journal.

The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Further ahead on the track, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them! You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person similarly tied up on the side-track.

Please note that this is not –even far from-  a hypothetical ethical question. See the picture below: self –driving vehicles have to make choices when an accident cannot be avoided.

What would you do?

In the next web lectures,  Prof. Jeroen van den Hoven will first explain the Trolley Dilemma and then explain the perspective of the responsible engineer. How can we avoid such problems?  The web lectures include some key takeaways.