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When things go really wrong - a current view of Air France 447 from the recovered black box.
hat tip to Rhaul
05:44 in society and technology | Permalink
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No two minds think alike, even for an instant, ever! Even if such a feat were physically possible, it would be impossible because the two bodies' sensors cannot occupy the same space at the same time and thus would perceive their environments from different perspectives.
Even, I might surmise, any given brain does not function the same way for more than an instant, as it is constantly observing, recording, and forgetting information. And then there is the left brain and the right brain and who knows what all else that lies between them.
Now I can see an African woman lying helpless in the dust under a relentless sun and flies, a scientist contemplating the explosive power of an atomic bomb on a tower somewhere in Nevada, the unabomber thinking about his next victim and explosive device, or me crash-landing a Cessna 140 onto a Lubbock, Texas runway, while my digital brain is working out the square root of pi, or so it seems. How are those billions of minute electrical signals emerging and fading? How are they stimulating and controlling our many nerves and muscles? How much control does our mind or body have or not at any instant of our lives?
Accidents will happen. The area under one side of a normal distribution curve six sigma out is about 10^-9. The odds of winning a big lottery may be on the order of 6x10^-9. But somebody wins. The area under one side of the normal distribution curve 4.5 sigma out is about 10^-6. Design shoots for six sigma but achieves 4.5 sigma on average, which is amazing considering the variability in everything. So we design for failsafe. Our bodies are designed for failsafe. How many things are allowed to break before disaster? The space shuttle has 10^9 parts. What is the probability that one part will fail if designed to six sigma? What is the probability that a space shuttle will fail? Considering the number of flights and failures, we know that probability is not very small.
Our modern aircraft are likely the most reliable pieces of equipment ever designed and manufactured. An engineer once said something along these lines, We set the machine up in the field, got the farmer's check, and ran like hell to the bank to cash it before the damn thing broke down. Now we know that parts on our airplane have a much greater chance of failure than any of us have of winning a great lottery, yet some of us will win lotteries and some of us will be in airplanes that do not come to rest under controlled crash landings. Unless we don't purchase lottery tickets, stay out of airplanes, or are fortunate enough not to be under one when it crashes. It'll be my luck that I'll forget to Mind The Gap or Look Right!
So where is the next frontier in aviation? Can robots more reliably control aircraft than humans? Are autopilots as capable and reliable as they should be? How far outside the linear envelop can they venture? Where is the dividing line between mechanical and human control?
Pilot vertigo is often cited as the cause of airplane crashes. The brain becomes overwhelmed and unable to assimilate and process the information supplied to it, especially under duress. I am living proof of that. While piloting a Cessna 140 across the plains of northern Texas, my flight instructor asked me to tell him the direction we were headed. I had been trained to watch for identifiable landmarks and locate them on the map attached to my thigh. I had been watching landmarks and I struggled, but was unable to give him an answer. Then he said, "Why don't you uncage your head?" Which was a good indication that I would never fly an airplane. My airplane knew what direction it was headed, but I didn't have enough sense to ask it. I was trying to solve the puzzle on my own and failed. If I had been flying on a dark, cloudy night, I wouldn't have known if I was flying upright or inverted, or up or down. My brain was paralyzed and forgot all that had been crammed into it in all those weeks of rote memorization.
Now I have enough sense to know that I will never fly an airplane, although I might be able to negotiate one to an airport and land it in good weather and under explicit instructions over the radio of what to do, assuming I have the radio on and tuned to the correct channel. Today, with letter grade "B" average and "C" failing, I wonder how many pilots one sigma above me are out there flying unsuspecting passengers across the ocean through thunderstorms in the middle of the night. How many of them might be unable to "uncage their head" in an emergency. What kinds of tests might weed them out and what kinds of pilot's associate might help them avoid disasters in such emergencies?
May 08, 2012 at 10:18
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