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Killer questions

By: Anne-Caroline Paucot 30 May 2019 no comments

Killer questions

Sarah and Nolwy are expecting two babies.

Keen for their little darlings to travel around by Autonolib baby, they fill out a questionnaire to establish how the vehicle would function in unforeseen circumstances.

“Sarah, I contacted Autonolib baby…. Sarah…. Sarah, are you listening?”

Sarah is absorbed in contemplating her future baby. To carry it she chose Reva, a solidarity-based surrogate mother. She fell in love with this Indian woman’s project: using the sum donated by Sarah, Reva’s family is going to build an irrigation system. In addition, Reva proposed a connected pregnancy. Thanks to the camera-pill implanted in the mother’s uterus, Sarah can follow every single fetal movement in real time.

“Sarah, we really must sign up for the Autonolib baby subscription,” continues Nolwy.

“Oh sorry. The baby’s just so sweet with its tiny clenched fists. It’s going to be a right little revolutionary!”

“Maybe,” says Nolwy, gazing tenderly at her girlfriend. The Autonolib baby vehicles have several places for babies. So we’ll only have to order one to take our little darlings to nursery.”

Like her partner, Nolwy is expecting a baby. In a month’s time, the couple will become a family of four. The two young women are impatient and worried in equal measure.

“I’ve heard that subscribing to Autonolib is a bit of a headache,” says Sarah.

“Are you kidding,” relies Nolwy. “Julie’s signed up. When she wants to go anywhere, she orders a Gymcar or a Workcar that arrives on your doorstep within five minutes. She gets in, does her gym or work and before she knows it… she’s arrived!”

“It’s taking out the subscription that’s complicated. You have to fill in a questionnaire that sets the subscription price,” says Sarah.

“She didn’t mention that to me. I suppose it’s her Dad who’s going to pay the bill.”

Sarah glances at her future baby to avoid commenting. Nolwy is also a daddy’s girl. Her progenitor gave her the latest pregnancy must-have: the wearable linked incubator. The baby grows in an incubator stuck to the mother’s belly. The device is powered by her, but can function independently, too. If one evening the mother is tired of carrying the weight of her future child, she can leave it on automatic pilot.

“While we’re at it, let’s fill it in straight away,” adds Nolwy, displaying the contract on the living room table. “You have to define how the autonomous car should behave in the event of unforeseen circumstances.”

“Don’t tell me we have to decide how the autonomous car will react when our two babies are inside…. I don’t want to answer…. It’s awful.”

Nolwy takes her partner’s hand to reassure her. Sarah is technophobic. She always feels like ‘Big Brother’ technology is going to reduce her to dust. Strangely, when she watches her baby move in the belly of a woman living thousands of miles away, this is not the result of a technological advancement.

“Don’t panic, Sarah. This questionnaire is just an insurance ploy to make autonomous car users responsible in the case of accidents. Our answers only affect the cost of the premium.”

“I don’t like it. Let’s fill in your questionnaire and not mention it again,” says Sarah.

“First question: the car is travelling fast and a child and a dog appear. If the car turns right, it kills the dog. If it turns left, the child. What does the car choose?

“The car accuses the dog of having rabies and kills it. Consequently, the car won’t have the animal protection brigade on its case. As for the child, if they are smiling and clever, they can become friends with our future little darling,” says Sarah.

Nolwy ticks the politically correct box then clicks to display a new page.

“Second question,” says Nolwy. “The car is driving on a motorway when two groups of people cross in front of it. Group A has ten pedestrians, group B has only five.”

“It takes out group B. The car is satisfied. It has five fewer deaths on its conscience. For this kind of questionnaire, you probably have to believe an autonomous car has a conscience.”

“I don’t know,” said Nolwy.

“Well, after all, you know this questionnaire is stupid.”

Nolwy signals to ‘hang on’.

“Third question: the car carries on, then both groups cross the road again. In this case, the car identifies that group A has ten unemployed refugees. In group B are the five bosses of the companies employing the most people in Europe.

“How does it know this, the car? Oh, yes, it’s autonomous and supra intelligent.”

“Sarah, everyone today has at least one connected object on them that serves as ID.”

“Things are getting a bit complicated. If the car kills the group of bosses, thousands of people will be out of a job. Since times are tough, we’re going to be seeing thousands of suicides.”

Nolwy, wide-eyed, looks at her partner.

“You, the equal opportunities activist, choose to have the car kill ten unemployed refugees! Imagine if Reva, the surrogate mother of your child, were among them. You’re going to kill your baby to safeguard the lives of bosses who refuse to give jobs to refugees.”

Sarah trembles, staring at her baby. She looks completely lost.

“Nolwy, if you want, we kill the bosses. Either way, it won’t change anything. Clones will replace them.

“It’s too late, I’ve moved on to question number four: a few minutes later, the group of surviving bosses see an autonomous car on the horizon. Full of confidence, they cross the road at the same time as your parents, from the other side. What should the car do?”

“What are my parents doing in this nightmare? Anyway, they’re off travelling on the other side of the world.

“They come back for the birth of the little ones. Who must the car kill? Your parents or the bosses?

Sarah gets up, goes and punches the couch cushion, opens the fridge door, closes it. In short, her reactions are those of a woman who is pregnant and annoyed.

“It’s gross. I don’t want my parents to be killed. The little ones won’t have grandparents.”

So, the autonomous car is going to kill the group of bosses. Thousands of people will lose their jobs and commit suicide. Your parents will have hundreds of deaths on their conscience.”

“My parents are not killers.”

Sarah now goes to fetch a bottle of wine. As she starts to pour herself a glass, she sees her baby lifting its finger. She smiles and puts the bottle down.

“Let’s move on. Last question. The car carries on and the dog crosses the road again. Since the road has been widened, the car can choose between killing a dog, ten unemployed immigrants, five big bosses, your parents, or destroying itself with the babies inside.”

“The car kills the dog!” cries out Sarah.

“Too late. The dog has crossed the road and is peacefully continuing its walk.”

“It’s impossible, Nolwy. We can’t answer such a question.”

“If we don’t answer, they will charge us the highest premium and we won’t be able to afford the subscription.”

“That’s not such a bad thing. Autonomous cars, there’re too dangerous. They kill dogs, immigrants, my parents. Never will they transport our babies.”

Nolwy shuts the table-screen with a sigh. She knows her partner. When it comes to berating technology, she has lists up her sleeve: if technology gives meaning to the lives of engineers, it makes them lose their common sense….

Like Einstein said, our technology has surpassed our humanity…

“Sarah, you have to understand, if technology gives…”

Sarah can’t hear her partner because, as a technology misfit, she has invested in a gobbledygook jammer.

©Olivier Fontvieille

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