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Autonomous Driving an Perverse Incentives

Catrin Misselhorn, University of Stuttgart, Germany
Wulf Loh, University of Stuttgart, Germany

This paper discusses the ethical implications of perverse incentives with regard to autonomous driving. We define perverse incentives as a feature of an action, technology, or social policy that invites behavior which negates the primary goal of the actors initiating the action, introducing a certain technology, or implementing a social policy. As a special form of means-end-irrationality, perverse incentives are to be avoided from a prudential standpoint, as they prove to be directly self-defeating: They are not just a form of unintended side-effect that must be balanced against the main goal or value to be realized by an action, technology, or policy. Instead, they directly cause the primary goals of the actors – i.e. the goals that they ultimately pursue with the action, technology, or policy – to be "worse achieved" (Parfit). In this paper, we elaborate on this definition and show that adverse incentives can manifest on three quantitative levels, where only at the last one the threshold for a perverse incentive is crossed. In addition, we discuss different possible relevant actors and their goals in implementing autonomous vehicles. We conclude that even if some actors do not pursue traffic safety as their primary goal, as part of a responsibility network they incur the responsibility to act on the common primary goal of the network, which we argue to be traffic safety.