Yesterday on NPR there was an "All Tech Considered" piece about the latest generation of smart elevator controllers that can compute in real time the most efficient allocation of stops to floors to minimize passenger waiting time. The story dwelled quite a bit on the loss of human operators, but it was casually mentioned that a company is developing a smartphone application that will communicate with the elevator controller so that it is "aware" that you will be arriving at the elevator shaft within a few minutes, and schedule accordingly. This raises a number of interesting issues, quite aside from the surveillance opportunities it affords. For instance, how will the system know whether you are just leaving work to run an errand, or that you have a particular situation (e.g. a medical emergency at home) that might require a "less efficient" decision to be taken in order to transport you before other people who might have been waiting longer. Could such machines be designed better to detect and respond flexibly to such contingencies? I don't see why not, but what are the dangers of going down the route towards autonomous machines making decisions that are sensitive to the ethically relevant features of not entirely predictable situations?
Letters: Football, Elevator Technology
January 12, 2010 ... SIEGEL: Yesterday in our All Tech Considered segment, we heard about the latest in elevator technology. ...