Legislature should enact laws that will ensure that the self-driving cars and any intelligent machine in our factories operate according to our values, which are based on the principles of Ubuntu, writes Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.
The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and author of the book Smart Computing Applications in Crowdfunding, Prof Marwala recently penned an opinion piece, Laws to regulate self-driving vehicles, published by the Sunday Independent, 07 June 2018.
Laws to regulate self-driving vehicles
Last week, I presented a talk in Parliament about artificial intelligence (AI), ethics and the law. For starters, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used to perform tasks previously done by human beings.
The company Uber makes more than R80 billion a year. Companies like Uber are managed services providers (MSPs) that connect customers to supplier.
Uber runs a taxi business but does not own any taxis. Because these MSPs are based on an IT platform and are domiciled in the cloud, they can easily avoid local regulations and control.
Uber has been making huge investments into self-driving cars. They drive on our roads and, therefore, are subjected to our rules and regulations, such as speed limits. So who is responsible for the fine if the self-driving car runs a red light or drives over the speed limit?
According to our laws, if a driver is caught driving over the speed limit, he or she – and not the car owner – is liable for a fine. Given that a self-driving car drives autonomously, do we still charge the owner?
A few weeks ago, a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Arizona. According to preliminary investigation reports, this self-driving car noticed her, before running her over.
If this car had had a driver, he or she would have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, but as this was a self-driving car, no one was arrested for the crime.
For Uber to have released the car on to the roads, the chief technical officer (CTO) would have had to give permission. Is Uber's CTO liable for this alleged crime?
It is time Parliament created laws to govern autonomous robots. Suppose a self-driving car is carrying four passengers.
If it reaches a point where it has to either hit a pedestrian or go over a cliff to avoid them, killing all of the passengers, what should this car do?
The philosopher Jeremy Bentham came up with the theory of utilitarianism. If the self-driving car applies utilitarianism, it will do that which will bring the "greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people".
So if it saves the four passengers and kills the pedestrian, then the passengers will be happy to be alive. If it kills the passengers and saves the pedestrian, the pedestrian will be happy to be alive.
Our legislature should enact laws that will ensure that these self-driving cars and any intelligent machine in our factories operate according to our values, which are based on the principles of ubuntu.
To do this, our legislator will need to understand the principles of AI and its implications.
Our engineers will have to develop the capability to be able to remodel these robots so that they are embedded with decision-making capabilities in line with our values.
Parliament should consider introducing a law that guarantees the basic right to privacy that cannot be taken away because of some legal contract.
Studies have shown that Africa is becoming a home for clinical trials. However, the South African regulatory framework is strong and perhaps, through the Pan-African Parliament, it should help other African countries to develop a robust policy to protect human lives.
To be able to regulate technology so we can protect lives and human dignity, we need to understand it.
Marwala is Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg and the co-author of the book Smart Computing Applications in Crowdfunding. He writes in his personal capacity.
• The views expressed in this article are that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.