David Warner of Prospect, Kentucky, raises some good points in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal:
Isn’t it interesting that I can buy a $400 gizmo for my dashboard that will bark at me if I miss my turn in the dark but a pilot can’t find the right runway on a foggy morning?
The answer to that question is even more unsettling: The pilot’s union has fought more technology in the cockpit because their members want to be “jet jockeys” and not play second fiddle to a jet that can easily take off and land by itself.
The joke is that the typical passenger with a laptop has more computer horsepower than you’ll find in the cockpit. Since the vast majority of plane crashes are “pilot error,” isn’t it time for an upgrade â€¦ that doesn’t have to look out the window to see if the jet is on the correct runway?
While the case is strong for more in-cockpit technology, it should serve as a complement–and not a substitute–for a pilot who is meticulous with his or her checklists. Airlines will not be safer if pilots begin relying on technology to maintain safety.
After all, when–not if–such technology fails or malfunctions, the checklist–with all its mundanities–is the difference between a safe flight and a disaster.
Some have made comparable arguments with respect to medicine, as very impressive decision support technology–using Artificial Intelligence (AI)–exists that allows computers to perform medical diagnoses. Many financial companies use this technology to augment their management of client portfolios.
Anyone who doubts the capacities of AI needs to take it up with Garry Kasparov.
However, in the real world, batteries die at the darndest times; circuit components break down; power surges destroy electronic components; hard-drives crash; databases get corrupted; programs crash when memory runs out (and the amount of available memory is often inversely proportional to the immediacy of the situation). Automated systems do fail.
Engineers, pilots, physicians, database administrators, network analysts, and application developers are well-acquainted with Murphy’s Law: when those systems fail, they will fail at the worst possible times .
With pilots–as with physicians–technology can be very effective as a redundancy: a fail-safe, if you will.
However, there remains no substitute for a pilot performing pre-flight and pre-takeoff check, or a physician who researches, speaks with the patient, interprets verbal and non-verbal communication, runs tests, researches topics, and arrives at a conclusion that can withstand the scrutiny of peer (or even judicial) review.