Some Rockets express trust amidst widespread fear of automation

Automation is coming to many jobs, threatening the wellbeing of workers, but may actually be safer for the consumer. The reliability of hardcoded systems has greatly increased, leading some to believe it is humans who pose the danger in the transportation sector.

Note: Dominic Daley is a licensed student pilot, but is by no means an expert. As a prospective job applicant, he hopes that automation does not remove pilots from the cockpit. He has been taught the importance of flying by hand, and has not yet been trained on any kind of autopilot system.

For many years now, people have been concerned for their job security. Computers have proven to be effective means of removing human error and inefficiency from many industries. One example might be with McDonald’s new ordering system using a self-service kiosk instead of human to human ordering.  

Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, but hardcoded programs have been making due in almost any sector outside of the humanities. AI has become increasingly capable of human speech and reasoning. While the person who hand coded a program knows exactly what it does, people who code AI aren’t so sure. Neural Networks replicate synapse connections that are inside a human brain. That means the AI is making decisions based on a convoluted and undisclosed system, rather than a clear system where each input receives an appropriate output.

In a survey of 28 Rocket faculty and students, three said they fear automation may replace their future or current job, while six weren’t sure. Obviously AI and computers are going to have an impact, but it isn’t quite clear yet. Tests in China have shown that AI is effective at replacing the family pediatrician, and Amazon has been using robots in its warehouses for years now. Not many people dream to work at a warehouse, so perhaps that is the reason the number may seem low.

Another interesting figure to look at is trust in automated systems. Tesla’s autopilot has proven to be nearly twice as safe on the road as a human driver, and while that was briefly seven times safer, it is still an improvement. Six Rockets said they would trust a driverless car to take them to school or work, while eleven said they would in a few years. Another eleven still said they would not trust a driverless car.

Senior Hailey Bell said, “I don’t trust them right now because there are still flaws in computers. Just think of how many times our tablets act up. Imagine if it was an airplane in flight acting up.”

Freshman Erin McManus said, “A computer may be able to ‘think’ faster than a human, but it is impossible for a computer to have programming in place for every scenario,” which is a completely valid argument against a hardcoded system. However, with AI, computers are learning how to react to scenarios they have never encountered. They may not be great at it now, and there are definitely ethical dilemmas to giving computers the ability to make life-or-death decisions, but in some cases they are better suited to fast decision-making than humans are. Computers can perceive information as quickly as electrons flow from sensors and can be analyzed while a human’s eyes take quite a long time to actually send the information to the brain.

The transportation industry, especially flight, has always been under a fine toothed comb. While this may come as a surprise, many airline flights are actually conducted largely without human intervention. After the 2015 crash of a German Wings airliner, caused by mental health problems that the pilot had, people really began to consider how safe humans are versus computers in the cockpit.

In light of the recent crashes of 737 Max 8, computer systems in airplanes have been under scrutiny again. While they were initially blamed on the low-time pilots in lesser developed countries, it was discovered that the anti-stall system forced the fatal maneuvers.

In a poll, it was clear that McNick faculty and students prefer there to be both computers and humans in the cockpit working together. The lowest voted options were the ones with only one or the other.

Many students actually do trust the systems and regard them as safe. Junior Nick Russell said, “It has come a long way and from everything that I’ve seen of it. It is pretty flawless.”

Sophomore Hadley Jerome said, “I trust them because there are immense amounts of research done. The government also has to approve of them and I don’t believe that government would approve of anything that could harm many Americans.” This is especially true for the airlines, as the FAA is extremely meticulous about safety.

Most students with distrustful view of automation said that they would not be swayed at all, while some said they could if computers achieved absolute perfection.

Overall, fears of automation regarding safety are not grounded in fact as much as they are grounded in traditional phobias. The fear of flying is not going to be helped at all with the knowledge that the plane is being piloted without a human. Fears like this may prevent the industry from ever becoming fully computerized, as it can be imagined that people might decide to take a bus over a plane as long as it feels safe.


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