Can computers replace pilots?

December 12th, 2011

And there’s more to that analogy, because high-tech cockpit equipment assists pilots in much the way that high-tech medical equipment assists physicians and surgeons: it has vastly improved their capabilities, but it by no means diminishes the experience and skill required to perform at that level, and has not come remotely close to rendering them redundant. A plane can “fly itself” about as much as the modern operating room can perform a surgical procedure “by itself.”

“Talk about medical progress, and people think about technology,” wrote the surgeon and authorAtul Gawande in a 2011 article for The New Yorker. “But the capabilities of doctors matter every bit as much as the technology. This is true of all professions.  What ultimately makes the difference is how well people use technology.”

No more than computers can replace Doctors of Lawyers. Rather, they can enhance the performance of these professionals–and in some cases, obviate the need for repeated human attention.

Though, the author’s discounting of the replacement of pilots with computers should be taken with something of a grain of salt–he’s a pilot:

One thing you’ll notice is how many of the more fantastical predictions about the future of flying tend to be from academics — professors, researchers, etc. — rather than commercial pilots. These people are surely intelligent and their work might be valuable, but often they are unfamiliar with the day-to-day operational aspects of flying planes. . . .

To some, I may sound like a Luddite pilot trying to defend his profession against the encroachment of technology and an inevitable obsolescence.

You can think that all you want.  I am not against the advance of technology.  I am against foolish extrapolations of it.

H/T Freakonomics