An Ethical System for A Self Driving Car

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This diagram describes a system of ethics for a self-driving car (actually for the autonomous system that drives the car - conceivable a system could be shared amongst multiple vehicles.)

The first page shows the relationship of the Worldview to the driving system and the vehicle. It also shows when the ethics system comes into play: when the car is in danger of crashing.

The second page shows the precedence of empathy and principles that comprise the worldview. Empathy for the family is the most important thing, following is the principle of minimizing damage to human life, followed by minimizing vehicular damage, and finally followed by the directive of obeying the driver.

The last page shows how empathy is built between the driving system and the family.

Referenced Symbols

Icon Symbol Description
Empathic Attractor

An empathic attractor indicates an increase in empathy for a subject, usually as a consequence of some condition being fulfilled. Used in conjunction with a condition, the empathic attractor can illustrate how a system can build empathy for a subject over time.


Empathy represents a sense of emotional connection or compassion that a system has for a subject. The empathy symbol represents the anticipation of systems that can distinguish between high and low-empathy subjects, potentially changing decisions made by the system based on empathy levels.

Empathy co-exists in a worldview with principles, and can trigger modal responses or dictate rules the same way principles can. Empathy can exist in a precedence relationship with principles, indicating that it can override principles or be overridden by them.

Ethical Question

A circumstance where ethics are required to address the situation. Worldviews apply to Ethical Questions.

Precedence Connector

A precedence connector is used show the precedence of one principle over another. The principle that is faced by the wide end of the triangle has precedence over the principle faces by the narrow end.

The purpose of the precedence connector is to show what happens when principles and/or empathy come into conflict with each other. In the event of a conflict, one principle (or empathy) will override the other.


A principle is an ethical directive that applies under certain circumstances. It exists as part of a Worldview, meaning it is a component in an ethical system.

A principle consists of rules concerning the applicability of the principle, and directives in the event that it does apply to a situation. In that sense, this symbol can be thought of as a reference for a Principle, and it can be defined separately using Rule symbols.


A worldview is a complete set of principles and/or empathy held by a system. Generally a system will only possess one worldview at a time. This symbol is a reference for a complete worldview: the CAVE Ethics extension is mostly concerned with detailing worldviews, using the other Ethics symbols.

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