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Tesla Model S electric car is seen as possibly one of the first autonomous cars everReuters/Kim Hong-Ji

The Moral Machine Experiment, a study that spanned 233 countries and involved over two million people, has found that people, in general, would prefer a self-driving car in an unavoidable accident to hit an elderly person than a young person, humans over animals, and fewer people over a larger crowd.

The study conducted at MIT set out to understand just how people think of autonomous cars and it should behave when faced with moral dilemmas and forced to make the decision to kill. A set of questions were handed to over 2 million people across 233 countries. Apart from the preferences that were seen across people from different lands, cultural differences played a role in responses received, notes the report.

Tesla Model S
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People in Asian countries, for example, preferred to save older people over youngsters, but the opposite was true in Latin America. However, people, for the most part, seemed to want to save pedestrians over passengers and people across the board did not save jaywalkers, but in poorer countries, drivers are normally more tolerant toward jaywalking, so their responses reflected it.

All responses were recorded through the Moral Machine, reports MotherBoard, a gamified survey that was originally built in 2016, to gain insights into killer instincts of humans. The game was made similar to the famous thought experiment-- "Trolley Problem" where people are asked if they would kill one to save five, except in the form of an autonomous car. On why something like this is needed, Azim Shariff, one of the co-authors of the study and researchers at the University of British Columbia, said that with human drivers, there is only gut reaction in case of an accident, but with autonomous cars, there is scope for choice.

"They'll make decisions that redistribute risks to different people on the road," Shariff said. By putting people in the game, researchers were able to answer fundamental questions about automation, like how much power should be given to machines.

"It does seem like 2018 was a tipping point where people turned against emerging technologies," Shariff said. "[The autonomous car] might be the first consumer product that could be programmed to the put the life of the owner at risk deliberately and against their will."

Shariff says that this was, "the largest moral psychology study ever conducted."