Autonomy.

Photo courtesy of extreme tech.com

I love technology. Lord knows I blog about it enough. I’ve been fascinated with all things tech since I was a young lad and my interest in technology just gets more geeky with every passing breath.

Tonight, my husband and I watched the latest episode of “Madam Secretary President”. Aside from the fact that Téa Leoni is my straight crush and that the final season of this show gives us a picture as to what the United States could have been like with the first female president, this episode, “Killer Robots”, discussed the dangers of Autonomous Weapons, or killer robots running on A.I.

We are not safer when we remove the human component of something, especially when technology can be hacked by bad actors.

This got me thinking about autonomous aircraft. I learned to fly at an airport jumping head first into UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The airplanes were rather cool in that you’d see a Diamond DA-42 go by on the taxiway without anyone in the cockpit. The airplane was being controlled by a pilot at a computer terminal located elsewhere on the airport. When a traditional airplane entered the airspace for landing, the unmanned aircraft would be redirected outside of harm’s way. When we left the area they had not sequenced manned and unmanned aircraft in the pattern together as of yet.

Many talk about taking the next leap to autonomous airliners. Imagine stepping onto an Airbus and knowing that not only are there no human pilots in the cockpit but there isn’t even a remote operator located somewhere on the ground, monitoring operations from a remote location. I’m not even comfortable with the idea of flying on an airplane with a remote pilot let alone flying on an airplane being controlled entirely by Artificial Intelligence. In both scenarios, whatever is flying the aircraft has no skin in the game. To the pilot controlling the UAV from the ground? It’s like operating a video game. To the aircraft controlled entirely by computers and artificial intelligence? Who knows what it’s thinking.

I love flying airplanes. And I know many men and women that enjoy it maybe even more than I do. I know I’m getting on in my years, but I fully believe we will always need an onboard human element when it comes aircraft hauling passengers or being used for missions that involve human interaction. Honestly, I’m not even comfortable with the idea of airlines reducing the flight crew from two to one; it’s good to have checks and balances, a human set of checks and balances.

Technology can do amazing things and I’m excited to see the advancements we make during the second half of my life. But we must never lose sight of the fact that we’re human and we need that human foundation.

We may not always act like the smartest species, but we’re still a feeling species; and that just feels right.

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