28 March 2012

If we attempt to block the development of new technology, we effectively have ensured that the most responsible parties will not develop them.

Ralph Merkle


There are situations where the most effective solution for everyone ends up being unfair to some. One example of this is with the crew of large shipping vessels.

If you’re on the crew of a merchant marine ship or tanker that gets into an accident, you will never be able to work on another boat again. It’s one strike you’re out. Doesn’t matter if you had no part in the accident, if you were sleeping at the time, or how low level you are, because if your idiot crewmember went to the bathroom and your ship ended up on a sandbar, your career is over.

This one strike you’re out rule is often times unfair. After working and studying for countless years, your career can be thrown away in an instant by a mistake you didn’t even have any part of.

However, the rule is very effective. It brings an extra level of diligence that can only come from not having any leeway to make mistakes. The rate of shipping accidents is very low.

Sometimes, even though rules are sometimes unfair to some, they are highly beneficial to society at large.

This is important because in the US we go to extreme lengths to make laws that are both effective overall and fair for everyone. In certain circumstances trying to make effective laws fair for every corner case results in laws that are neither fair nor effective. I would argue that the ability to sue for an unlimited amount in medical malpractice cases falls into this category.

As another example, let’s look at google’s driverless cars. For those who don’t know, google has developed computers that drive modified cars and have been testing these computer driven cars on the road for over a year. So far, zero accidents. It seems like a no brainer to me that google should be granted immunity from lawsuits for their computer driven cars.

There are huge benefits to driverless cars. In 2009 there were over 30,000 people who died in car accidents with almost 11,000 as a result of drunk driving. Driverless cars would get rid of the drunk driver deaths, and greatly reduce the deaths from generally poor driving skills. Beyond this, it would help people reclaim countless hours of time that could be used productively, instead of commuting, and give a huge amount of extra mobility to the elderly.

However, there’s going to be a situation where a google car hits and kills someone. There will be outrage, and people will demand justice. This is why google needs immunity. Because, even though it is unfair to the family who lost a loved one, the real justice is that google was able to reduce the number of driving deaths by a huge amount.

These laws only work when they are occasionally unfair to random people and hugely effective for everyone. If they are unfair to a specific group of people in favor of another they would be highly immoral.