Slam the Brakes: Perceptions of Moral Decisions in Driving Dilemmas

Holly Wilson, Andreas Theodorou

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Artificially intelligent agents are increasingly used for morally-salient decisions of high societal impact. Yet, the decision-making algorithms of such agents are rarely transparent. Further, our perception of, and response to, morally-salient decisions may depend on agent type; artificial or natural (human). We developed a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation involving an autonomous vehicle to investigate our perceptions of a morally-salient decision; first moderated by agent type, and second, by an implementation of transparency. Participants in our user study took the role of a passenger in an autonomous vehicle (AV) which makes a moral choice: crash into one of two human-looking Non-Playable Characters (NPC). Experimental subjects were exposed to one of three conditions: (1) participants were led to believe that the car was controlled by a human, (2) the artificial nature of AV was made explicitly clear in the pre-study briefing, but its decision-making system was kept opaque, and (3) a transparent AV that reported back the characteristics of the NPCs that influenced its decision-making process. In this paper, we discuss our results, including the distress expressed by our participants at exposing them to a system that makes decisions based on socio-demographic attributes, and their implications.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2019
EventAISafety 2019: Workshop in Artificial Intelligence Safety - Macao, China
Duration: 11 Aug 201912 Aug 2019
Conference number: IJCAI-19


WorkshopAISafety 2019
Internet address


  • Virtual reality
  • ai ethics
  • Mental models
  • autonomous vehicle
  • moral dilemma
  • transparency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science


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