Pilots and robots

In Robotic Nation I predict that one of the first professions to be automated out of their jobs by robots will be pilots. Therefore I get a lot of mail from pilots telling me that I am wrong.

I think the thing that will hasten the elimination of pilots is human error. This week there were two news stories that made the problem of human error painfully apparent.

One error occured here in Raleigh, NC where I live. A pair of F-18 fighters landed at Raleigh-Durham international airport to refuel. When they took off again, one of the planes had a problem as it was rolling down the runway. The pilot ejected and landed safely.

That would seem like the end of the story. However, the now pilot-less plane was still rolling down the runway at a major commercial airport. It ended up swerving off the runway, crashing in the grass and bursting into flame. If it had swerved just a little earlier, it would have crashed right into the middle of Terminal A, full of people, and burst into flames there.

Obviously a robot would have had no reason to eject, and would have stayed with the plane.

The second example can be seen in this article: ABCNEWS.com : Aloha Airlines Pilot Barred From Flight. From the article:Had he not been arrested, he would have been flying around with hundreds of lives at stake. You might counter by saying that no drunk would ever be allowed to board and pilot a plane, but then you have to explain how the Exxon Valdez had a drunk at the helm when it crashed in Alaska.

Even if most human pilots are competent, there will always be some who are not, even if only temporarily. Humans have a tendency to get sleepy, drunk, sick, etc. on occasion. Accidents do happen. In contrast, robots get better and better each year through incremental improvement. Yes, robots make mistakes. But when they do, the mistakes are corrected and never happen again. Thus, the safety record of robots is always improving. Eventually, the robot is better than the human, and all the humans are replaced.

That is why there will be no pilots in the cockpit in 10 or 15 years -- autopilots will eventually be better than human pilots, and people won't want to risk their lives on the less-reliable human pilot.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home
Archives © Copyright 2005 by Marshall Brain
Atom RSS

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?