Watching the horrific final moments of the Lion Air Flight 610 through a simulation program is heart wrenching and disturbing, as 189 souls experienced a hellacious 13 minutes of sharp plunges, cabin jarring changes in speed and a final sickening inversion of the entire aircraft, before all were lost as the Boeing 737 Max crashed into the Java Sea and broke into pieces.
And it didn’t have to happen, as aviation experts are theorizing in the aftermath of the tragedy, that the term “accident” may not apply to a fatal system failure, which left the experienced flight scrambling to find a feasible detour within the complexity of the digital and mechanical infrastructure to gain back control of the airplane.
Preliminary findings indicate that a combination of poor maintenance procedure, combined with the dauntingly vast framework of the internal systems of the aircraft, led to the catastrophe, an insidious reality that plagues, vehicles, devices, and appliances, as the age of artificial intelligence is exponentially and radically pushing the limits of time-tested technology. All indications are that it will only get worse before it gets better, as pilots, drivers, and consumers face the daunting challenges forged by overengineering, in facing impassable routes towards solutions and redundancies. For device owners the scenario equates to a massive headache prompted by a high voltage of future shock. For pilots and drivers, it is as serious as life and death, a truly unacceptable bi-product of being forced to navigate through a thick forest of multitudinous systems in trying to find a solution to an error.
Reports from the Lion Air disaster indicate that the flight crew was frantically attempting to disengage the autopilot, which was being fed unreliable airspeed readings, causing the erratic aerial chaos of the flight path. The black boxes and flight recorders have been located and the data should be telling. Allegedly, the chief pilot entered the main cabin at one point to gain access to operating manuals in a desperate attempt to bypass corrupted systems and giving the cockpit manual control. The chilling incident gives credence to the idea that maybe civilization is reaching the threshold of putting too much faith in technology and discounting the billions of years of evolution and careful sculpting of the ability of the brain to make complex and instinctive decisions in a fraction of a second. An Indonesian pilot working through four decades summed up the plight of “more is less” quite eloquently in a New York Times article, “People are so intoxicated by automation that they’ve forgotten how to do things in basic mode.” Bingo.
As with the riveting and accident-riddled live testing of self-driving cars, the issue far transcends the simple notion of losing touch with safe proven methods of alleviating a disaster, as a driver or a pilot faces the insurmountable nightmare of not even being able to deploy driving or flying skills during a critical moment in time, because of the propensity of computers to endure a malfunction. The brilliance of pressing the brake with a foot or grasping the woke by both hands, unfortunately has been hijacked by the presence of sub-systems, which apparently provide an innovative addition of feedback which equates to heightened safety protocols. This is of course an enigma which the tech industry has deployed in the synergy between mechanical systems and software. How much is too little, and how much is too much?
The incompetence of the Lion Air maintenance crew was a major factor in the tragedy, and should not be discounted. Yes, the failure to run through a painstaking troubleshooting session, after the aircraft encountered erroneous airspeed readings the day before, needs to be investigated and corrected. Was a complicated framework of tedious systems, too much for engineering and ground crew to handle?
As techies err towards the decadent in creating software interfaces automating the basic human functions of life, the simple concept of turning on a light switch with the flick of a finger, in some cases now involves a device, a wireless router for the electrical casing and the potential for the ominous presence of a hacker in Chengdu playing a trans-pacific game engaged in the juvenile game of “light switch on, light switch off,” programmed for ten thousand nightly iterations. Actually, the triads are involved in using the technology against homeowners in temporarily disabling an entire residential lighting system, while sending in a robbery team of contract Estonians. Smartphones routinely fail in allowing users access, while bugs and errors are prevalent throughout computing systems and software. A smartgun with a fingerprint identifying unlock device seems like a good idea on paper, but what if it fails 1 out of 60 times, during an instant it is actually needed?
The entire disheartening and damaging narrative spawned by the smart phone era, that behavior patterns of the flesh and blood, are being gradually influenced by the implacable near precision of the descendants of the looming vacuum tubes in the wake of the nuclear age. While annoyance is produced by an individual walking down the street with head and conscience firmly planted within the dream world and pixels of the softscreen, on the other end of the spectrum a flight crew unable to assume manual control of an aircraft in a life and death situation, is a deplorable result in the initial stages of man versus machine. A conflict that has emanated from the godless corporate structure of Silicon Valley, as legions of coders and programmers maintain an indifference to faith and fate.
The overall stewardship, research and development efforts of the tech world in reducing transportation accidents is worthy, noble and a fair percentage of the technology has resulted in saving lives, however, and this is the caveat, the endgame of severely limiting the human role as the operator and relying completely on an interconnected system of AI to make a near perfect orchestrated decision tree of correct reactions, is beyond reason.
Humans while imperfect, perform at an extremely high level of proficiency in executing the 102,000 global flights per day, or the hundreds of millions of vehicular commuters in the US alone, who successfully navigate the roadways. In 2017, commercial pilots scored a perfect 100, as there were zero airplane crashes, that resulted in fatalities. The question is why mess with perfection or something that is very close?
The answer is, because they can. Funded by digital billionaires and lacking the instinctive presence of street smarts and survival skills, because something can be modeled in a software environment, it must be true. From an engineering standpoint, the Boeing 737 Max is an elegant and efficient specimen of software and mechanical delight dancing gracefully seven miles in the heavens, but from a practicality standpoints, all bets are off as the severe limitations of the aircraft tragically contributed to the lives of literally thousands changed forever in the manner of a quarter of an hour.
Hopefully, the powers that be at the airlines will take a refresher course in the K.I.S.S. principle of logic in not throwing all their eggs into the proverbial basket of the latest and greatest, and sacrificing reliability for the sake of petabyte magnitudes and the insincere blessings of the green movement. The next decade could be telling as the newer generations of the Boeing and Airbus families replace the aging fleets of long haul jets, and city streets and freeways are populated by sentient vehicles (The potential insurance litigation nightmares of the role of a self-driving automobile involved in an accident alone make it difficult to sleep.)
AI exists as a powerful tool in all fields of innovation, however the humanizing of a smart system is akin to kissing the role of the Homo Sapiens goodbye.
God Bless the families of the victims.
Read the New York Times article here.