Who Do You Trust: Man or Machine?

Drive back into work tonight (I’m pretty much a workaholic) I caught an NPR report on the cause of that collision of those two airplanes over Germany that killed all those children.

The Russian pilot made a disastrous mistake. His onboard computer system designed to avert head-on collisions told him one thing. The Swiss air controller told him the complete opposite.

He listened to the human and it cost him his life, and the lives of everyone on the other plane. NPR reported that, until this disaster, there had never been a collision between planes equipped with this anti-collision technology.

And, it turns out, the Swiss air controller should have kept his mouth shut. They featured another controller saying that they are taught to not interfere once the anti-collision system has instructed the pilot on what to do.

And what would you do in that situation? I’d go with the human being over the computer. I know people have done psychological research on peer pressure and decision making, but I wonder if anyone’s ever thrown a computer into the works to see if that makes a difference?

Update – Sept 2, 2013

There is an episode of Air Crash Investigation dedicated to this particular crash and what went wrong and the aftermath of this crash. As the ACI report makes clear, the NPR story and the above summary are a gross oversimplification of all the things that went wrong in the July 1, 2002 midair collision. Unfortunately, there was a rush to judgment after the crash which ended in the tragic murder of the air controller.

2 thoughts on “Who Do You Trust: Man or Machine?”

  1. …..the Swiss air controller should have kept his mouth shut? That is correct……. if you know that the TCAS intervened. If not, and this is the case, an ATCO must continue to provide clearances.

  2. Thank you for the post. Looking at the dates on this, NPR must have been pushing this story literally days after the collision — talk about rush to judgment.

    I’ve updated the post and also embedded a YouTube video of the Air Crash Investigations episode on this particular collision.

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