The social and ethical implications of autonomous vehicles

Morton, Richard and Dunn, Nick and Richards, Daniel and Coulton, Paul (2020) The social and ethical implications of autonomous vehicles. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The current discourse surrounding vehicle autonomy focuses on the safe decision making of these machines, and the optimisation of traffic flow. It seems unquestionable that driverless vehicles will have far reaching effects on the way we live our lives yet to date, the social and ethical implications of driverless technologies on the user have largely been ignored. Using a multimethods approach incorporating speculative design and qualitative methods, this thesis explores the social and ethical implications of autonomous technologies on everyday life. Speculative design methods were used to question the autonomous vehicle concepts published by manufacturers. This identified user groups who appear unlikely to adopt such technologies, due to infrastructural and logistical constraints. HGV drivers emerged as a pioneering user group, who by law, had been using early driverless technologies since November 2015 with mixed success. The views of HGV drivers were explored through qualitative methods, using semi-structured interviews. The findings indicate that the industries developing autonomous technologies are all too often focused on a single user, the urban commuter. As a result, HGV drivers felt that they were being burdened with technology which they see as imposed on them and which is unhelpful or even detrimental to their lives and working practices. This is leading to increased resistance and a questioning of the future role of the professional driver. Building on the emerging field of data comics and using HGV drivers as a case study, this thesis proposes methods of visualising futures that could help designers and academics to explore, challenge and influence how we want emergent technologies to shape our daily lives in the future. This thesis highlights that the trajectory of autonomous technology development is not towards the experience of the driver or user but instead, is focused on the pursuit of the advancement of technology.

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Thesis (PhD)
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14 Jul 2020 13:30
Last Modified:
15 Jan 2024 00:01