Reply to post: Re: Hey software, get the fuck out of the way!

Boeing 737 pilots battled confused safety system that plunged aircraft to their deaths – black box

Graham Triggs

Re: Hey software, get the fuck out of the way!

"Until this incident, I would have said that's why I like Boeing more than Airbus. Boeing's philosophy was supposed to be as you say... assist the pilot, but never usurp his authority. The Airbus philosophy is that since pilot error is a/the cause of most crashes, it's going to overrule the pilot if it thinks he is in error. This incident seems an example of the Airbus philosophy, not the supposed Boeing one."

I may be wrong here, but my impression is that even with Airbus, it is human part that causes virtually all failures. Admittedly, sometimes that is down to bad interface design, where the human thinks they are doing one thing, but are actually telling the software something else.

And whilst we could say that because this incident was caused by a faulty sensor, and that a faulty sensor should not be allowed to override a pilot's input, pilots are still depending on what the plane is telling them. If the software can get bad data, so can the pilot - and there are crashes where the pilot has been given the wrong altitude, airspeed, etc.

We have to be realistic here - the software is pretty reliable within its operating parameters. And some of the cases where a pilot might be able to react on instinct, e.g. flying in bad weather, maybe there could be better decisions to be made to not put a plane in that kind of risk.

Whilst we worry about the reliability of the software, think of the incidents that could be prevented. If you can (mostly) rely on a plane flying and landing itself, detecting and avoiding any obstructions, you can afford to lock the controls to the biometrics of the pilots prior to take-off, knowing that if anything happens to them - or simply there is a failure to read the biometrics - it is the plane that will get itself to safety It would significantly impact the possibilities for hijackers.

But however good the software can be, pilots are necessary. Maybe the unexpected situation is unavoidable. Maybe you are running low on fuel and need to land at an airport where guidance systems for an automated landing are malfunctioning. You need a human element to deal with passenger emergencies. With 100s of people on board, you need to cover these possibilities.

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