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Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 2pm
How can we know a self-driving car is safe?
Self-driving cars promise solutions to some of the hazards of human driving but there are important questions about the safety of these new technologies. How safe is safe enough? Using interviews with more than 50 people developing and researching self-driving cars, I describe two dominant narratives of safety. The first, safety-in-numbers, sees safety as a self-evident property of the technology and offers metrics in an attempt to reassure the public. The second approach, safety-by-design, starts with the challenge of safety assurance and sees the technology as intrinsically problematic. The first approach is concerned only with performance—what a self-driving system does. The second is also concerned with why systems do what they do and how they should be tested. Using insights from workshops with members of the public, I introduce a further concern that will define trustworthy self-driving cars: the intended and perceived purposes of a system. Engineers’ safety assurances will have their credibility tested in public. ‘How safe is safe enough?’ prompts further questions: ‘safe enough for what?’ and ‘safe enough for whom?’