Pilot-less Passenger Jets in Your Future? Here are Vulnerabilities

Recently we learned about disturbing customer service incidents on U.S. passenger jets whereby paying customers were dragged bloodied off aircraft or challenged to fight near the cockpit.

These incidents are outgrowths of putting profit above passengers. But a much more ominous development, which CNN states is only a mere five years away, are remote-controlled pilot-less passenger jets.

This raises serious questions covered in the forthcoming book, Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (July 2017 release date). Would you rather fly on a jet piloted by machine whose algorithms are programmed for profit or on one flown by human whose adrenaline is programmed for survival?

Pilot safety is so amazing that the odds of a crash are, literally, astronomical. As the Economist reports, if you took a trans-Atlantic flight from London to New York every day, you could expect to go down once every 14,716 years.

To be sure, pilot error is a chief cause of airline crashes, with some statistics reporting a figure as high as 58% over time. What those statistics do not show, however, are occasions where pilot experience, intuition and critical thinking saved the day …. as well as passengers in aircraft.

Perhaps no person embodied that skill set more than Leonardo da Vinci who conceived the design for a flying machine in the 15th century. He is the iconic father of all pilots. It was da Vinci who said,

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

Here is an article about the 10 most heroic pilot rescues in aviation history, based on those non-algorithmic human skill sets of experience, intuition and critical thinking.

Few people ever attach the word “heroic” to a machine, unless, of course, you mean the comic art drawing application, HeroMachine3.

Currently some newer passenger jets are computerized to such extent that on some rare occasions, a pilot has to rescue the aircraft from machines that go “psycho” during flight. Last week the Sydney Morning Herald published such a story, titled  “The untold story of QF72: What happens when ‘psycho’ automation leaves pilots powerless?

The video accompanying the story shows how a machine believed the plane to be hurdling at an unbelievable almost vertical angle at an incredible amount of speed–flight incapable of happening, by the way–which the computer had not programmed into its algorithms.

Yes, this is an exceptionally rare case, but it serves a point about machines. When they go haywire, humans are needed to set programming aright again.

Wary, yet, about traveling as a passenger in a pilot-less jet? You should be.

In the end, profit-minded corporations will make the determination about aircraft with or without pilots. They most certainly will retain armed undercover air marshals to guard against terrorism.

But will they factor into the cost analysis the terrorist hacker who can infiltrate the cabin’s computer system with a virus that sends the airplane into a tailspin?

If we know anything in the age of the machine, it is this: any computer anywhere can be hacked. Let’s just hope that this doesn’t occur in the friendly skies.

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