Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This Is Not Good.

WSJ reports:

Boeing Withheld Information on 737 Model, According to Safety Experts and Others 

This is more than just "not good", this is down right scary.
The automated stall-prevention system on Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models -- intended to help cockpit crews avoid mistakenly raising a plane's nose dangerously high -- under unusual conditions can push it down unexpectedly and so strongly that flight crews can't pull it back up. Such a scenario, Boeing told airlines in a world-wide safety bulletin roughly a week after the accident, can result in a steep dive or crash -- even if pilots are manually flying the jetliner and don't expect flight-control computers to kick in. That warning came as a surprise to many pilots who fly the latest models for U.S carriers. Safety experts involved in and tracking the investigation said that at U.S. carriers, neither airline managers nor pilots had been told such a system had been added to the latest 737 variant -- and therefore aviators typically weren't prepared to cope with the possible risks."It's pretty asinine for them to put a system on an airplane and not tell the pilots who are operating the airplane, especially when it deals with flight controls," said Capt. Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents about 15,000 American Airlines pilots. "Why weren't they trained on it?"
Make no mistake--I am all for automation, where it is needed. But I am also, and primarily so, for high level of professional training of personnel which provides a set of fundamental skills allowing professional pilots, mariners, surgeons, what have you, to be independent of "technology" in critical situations while deciding when and how to engage it. We just saw another example of a loss of a situational awareness and of extremely low level of fundamental professional skills here:

At least in Norway no people got killed, in case of Indonesian Boeing every one on board died. Somebody at Boeing has to answer for this major FUBAR and higher-ups there at least may try to remind people who write all kinds of software for commercial aircraft that it is not a freaking video-game they are coding--people's safety is at stake. But that opens another can of worms altogether--technophilia taken to the extreme in a firm conviction, primarily among people who do not have required complex skills such as piloting, that machines can do everything for us. They can't, and they shouldn't. In the end, the Miracle on Hudson occurred primarily for the reasons of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew's superb professional human skills under the conditions of almost complete failure of technology. In the end, I would be extremely apprehensive while being flown in the aircraft in which pilots are merely operators of the cockpit at the service of main on-board computer, or to be driven in pilot-less cars--another wet dream of office plankton who thinks that human lives can be described in Java or C++. 

Most of all, I  would be very, and I am, apprehensive of exclusion of a human professional from the decision loop in Combat Informational Control Systems (aka Battle Management) responsible for the use of sensors and weapons because in this case a Skynet scenario becomes not only possible but reasonably probable. In warfare, I am all for networks and AI but only under conditions of a human having his hand at the switch. I really hope that Boeing learns its (tragic) lesson because I like Boeing's aircraft but the idea that those could become simply uncontrollable pieces of metal with no ability to get them under control is, frankly, terrifying.   

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