A vehicle equipped with Mobileye technology.
(photo credit: COURTESY MOBILEYE)
Following the recent multi-billion dollar acquisition of Israeli company Mobileye by Intel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly stated that his government plans to further assist companies developing technologies in the area of smart mobility by cutting down regulation, thus enhancing Israel’s prominence in the area of autonomous vehicle technology, i.e. driverless cars. This is an important statement which the burgeoning Israeli market has long been waiting for. The government is in a position to develop autonomous vehicle governance that could be adopted by other countries around the globe and is necessary for the introduction of this very promising technology.
With a technophilic population, a can-do start-up mentality and a poor driving record, Israel is an optimal laboratory to show how useful letting technology take the wheel can be in reducing congestion, slashing road fatalities, conserving energy, saving unnecessary costs and mitigating other car-culture- associated ills. And while the Israeli government may have traditionally looked to European neighbors and Western allies to emulate proven regulation, now Israel needs to take the initiative to be the relevant light unto the nations.
In terms of legal issues at play, the moral and legal dilemmas of whose life to spare are at the heart of the artificial intelligence-based system of autonomous vehicles.
Most are familiar with some version of the Trolley Problem – a decades-old thought experiment wherein doleful law students are called upon to make dreadful moral choices in prioritizing citizen’s lives as a runaway trolley barrels down the avenue.
In its modern form, we ask how an autonomous vehicle should resolve which life to endanger and which life to save, in a situation where the only outcome is that someone has to die.
Our society and government ponder whether the machine driving the vehicle can make as ethically sound a decision as the average human driver. Can we trust autonomous vehicle technology behind the wheel? Can we trust it with our lives? However bizarre and perplexing the philosophical questions behind letting a robot drive a car may be, regulators must first dive even deeper into the technological adaptation before they can provide a green light for such systems to take the road.
Any new regulations which would stimulate the introduction of this technology need to account for current innovation, but also be flexible enough to prevent the holdup of this rapidly developing field in the face of government inaction or short-sighted rules. For a simple example, take the standard that all cars must have a steering wheel and that all drivers must keep both hands on the wheel while driving. While this law is great for targeting inconsiderate folks who talk on their cellphone while driving, it is sorely out of date for a car that doesn’t need a driver.
And while it may seem obvious that this rule needs an update, it is far from obvious as to what will replace it.
If successful, the right adaptable autonomous autotech guidelines will account for unconventional insurance models, changes in the nature and cause of accidents and the accompanying criminal and civil liabilities, distracted- driving regulations, gas consumption and its heavy taxation, privacy concerns (as the cars record our every trip) and the ever-present threat of hacking, whereby conceivably someone other than your friendly software chauffeur could take control of your car.
In addition to these regulatory and legal changes, the government will also have to adapt to, or even proactively promote, societal changes that will accompany these technologies. There will be those whose livelihoods will be more affected than others by this innovation, most prominently workers across different transportation-related industries. In fact, given the success of another Israel- related player in this area – Otto, a company that retrofits trucks to make them autonomous – those in the transportation sector may be the first to feel the impact of autonomous vehicle integration. At this juncture, the government may need to provide retraining opportunities for those who need to pursue alternative prospects and, eventually, even subsidies for those who can’t.
Autonomous vehicles will affect more than just the liabilities associated with human interactions on the roads. Their introduction will necessitate changes in urban design and development, particularly as public and private transportation models change. For example, parking garages and curbside parking are important when you have to leave your car where you exit it – less so when the car can park itself in much tighter, more distant spots and return upon command. Much of our current infrastructure, built with current human driving trends in mind, will also need to adapt or be repurposed if and when car ownership fails, as car sharing (both within and beyond the family) becomes the norm.
Potentially most disruptive, with commutes becoming less tiring and onerous there could be a drive to move out of the center of the country and into the suburbs, necessitating substantial investment in infrastructure outside of the large cities.
All of these efforts are far from trivial, and will require the collaboration of ministries, agencies, technologists, lawyers, politicians and academics in assessing how best to move forward in a calculated and thorough manner.
As former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood recently noted, it is crucial that we move forward in bringing all stakeholders into this conversation while the iron is still hot.
Dov Greenbaum is director of the Zvi Meitar Institute at the Radzyner Law School of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
Roy Keidar is special counsel to the law firm Yigal Arnon & Co.