The future car is electric and autonomous, but the latter raises critical questions about the technology’s legal, ethical, and political impact on automakers and consumers alike. German automaker Audi and the &Audi Initiative have unveiled a new “SocAIty” Study that offers possible solutions to the impending dilemmas and societal discourse of autonomous driving technology (Audi created the &Audi Initiative in 2015).
“After electromobility, the next, clearly more radical change is the transition to more intelligent and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles,” said Markus Duessmann, CEO of Audi AG. “Autonomous driving is a key technology that can help make traffic safer and mobility more comfortable and inclusive.”
“SocAIty” Study: Three Main Focal Points
Audi is aware that consumer attitudes towards new technologies like autonomous driving are critical in gaining broad acceptance. The technology should also address questions in the fields of law (How will the vehicle respond in an accident?), ethics (Who is liable in an accident involving autonomous cars?), and more importantly, data protection (Who does the generated data belong to?).
“As a car manufacturer, we see it as our duty to deploy new technology responsibly,” explained Saskia Lexen, project manager for the &Audi Initiative at Audi AG. “With the ‘SocAIty’ Study, Audi seeks to contribute to the public debate about autonomous driving of the future.”
In return, the 70-page “SocAIty” Study addresses three focal points surrounding the future implementation of autonomous driving technology. The first is a chapter called Law and Progress, taking a deeper dive into existing questions about liability on a global scale. The second is Relationships of Trust Between Human and Machine, which takes a closer look at the ethical aspect of autonomous driving.
The third focal point is Networked Security, an all-important deep dive into data protection and security. “All in all, the result is an image of a mobility landscape that will look different in 2030 from what it looks like today,” Lexen added. “But we’ll manage that without science fiction.”
Future Mobility Landscape
In addition, the study is painting an image of future roads with a more diverse, compartmentalized, and inclusive mobility landscape, particularly in large cities like London, New York, and Shanghai. Experts agree that U.S. consumers are the primary force behind autonomous driving technology. At the same time, Germany and the rest of Europe will serve as innovation sites for new vehicle technologies and high-volume production.
“The U.S. often takes on the role of incubator; it breaks new ground early on,” said Uta Karen Klawitter, Head of General Counsel Legal Services at AUDI AG. “In China, on the other hand, new technology is often quickly rolled out and scaled across the board.”
Moreover, the same experts agree that European consumer rights and data protection regulations will impact global product standards for the entire automotive industry. More than 19 well-known law, ethics, and data protection experts participated in the recent “SocAIty” Study to help define the ethical foundations and challenges of a fully autonomous future.
“Above all, the study points out paths to more collaboration,” Lexen said. “It calls for an interdisciplinary and solution-oriented approach concerning international legal standards, or the way data is handled or ethical or safety-related matters.”