Socio-Scientific Issues in STEM Education: Engineering

Should self-driving cars have a moral conscience?

Even though it is not yet permitted in many countries to drive cars completely autonomously, self-driving cars are becoming increasingly popular. Reports about fatal accidents with autonomous driving vehicles are always present in the media, but the car industry promises that in the near future autonomous driving systems will be in no way inferior to human drivers in terms of safety. 

However, even if autonomous driving systems are safe, there may be situations where accidents are unavoidable. What rules should an autonomous driving car then follow?







SSIs in this Example

Characteristics of SSIs

How to use SSIs in STEM Ed

Controversy in this example. The question breaks down on how much is a (human, animal etc) life worth. If a car has only two choices, hitting an elderly woman or hitting an infant the situation seems to be clear. But in depth analysis shows that in general it is required to measure the worth of a human life depending on factors like age, gender, behaviour etc.


  • SSIs have a basis in science and require people to engage in dialogue, discussion, and debate.
  • They are mainly controversial in nature. 
  • They require forming opinions and making decisions including scientific, moral, ethical or social reasoning issues.

Dealing with SSIs

  • Dealing with these issues requires evaluating incomplete information because of conflicting or incomplete scientific evidence and incomplete reporting
  • Often these issues involve a cost-benefit analysis in which risk interacts with ethical reasoning.

The goal is to understand how different opinions evolve and strengthen.

  1. Read the text carefully!
  2. How do you position in this context!
  3. Put yourself in the role of an expert. How would you argue…
    1. … if you oppose the case?
    2. … if you do not oppose the case?
  4. Do your own (internet) research.
    1. Find list of (seemingly) scientific based arguments favoring respectively opposing the arguments in this case
    2. Elaborate on the connection between the case and scientific facts. 
  5. What other aspects influence the perception of this case?

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