PH Blog: blind faith


Strange the kind of stuff people put up on Facebook. Like this scary but fascinating report into what happened on the Air France flight that plunged, apparently mysteriously, into the Pacific.

Having recovered the black boxes the full truth of what happened makes fascinating - and horrifying - reading. Especially if you ever worry about how much control we hand over to the machines.

Coming at you under radar guidance...
Coming at you under radar guidance...
It seems the pilots had so much belief in the idea that the Airbus A330 wouldn't let itself crash that they ignored ever more strident warnings and eventually stalled. They were so convinced by the manual's assurances that the Airbus simply wouldn't let itself stall they ignored the warnings, thinking there must be a fault with the instruments. That blind trust ultimately led to the deaths of 228 people.

And there's a danger cars are going the same way too. Take the E63 AMG test car we've just handed back for example. Though it seems utterly counter intuitive you can cruise in stop-start traffic with your feet off the pedals under radar automatic pilot that'll even bring you to a halt when the car in front stops. Brush the throttle and it'll move off again, maintaining an electronically metered distance whatever the speed. These systems have been round a while but we're breeding a generation of drivers who, eventually, might never have had to make these kind of decisions themselves. As Riggers has reported this week, a new patent marks the next step to cars that can drive themselves. But if, as in Flight 447, the computers go a bit screwy where does that leave them?

So who's actually in control?
So who's actually in control?
Blind trust in electronics can bite and it's actually had me off the road too, leaning against the mid-way 'show-off' ESP setting on a wet slip road. I was counting on a nice electronically enhanced - and recovered - slide. But the computers said no and off I went. Dumb, but previous experience said it'd have given me a quick half a turn of opposite lock and then tidied things up for me. When it didn't I was suddenly on my own and out of talent. I'd been lulled into a false sense of security that tricked me into thinking I could drive like that with impunity but, on my own, my skills weren't enough to recover the situation. A sobering moment indeed.

When they work these systems are incredible and mean a 500hp-plus rear-drive estate car with an aggressive limited-slip differential like the E63 is viable family transport even in the weather we've been having the last few days. A few years back that would have been considered ludicrous but now we take it for granted. And the E63 is a wonderful thing. But as Flight 447 proves it's sometimes worth trusting your instincts, as well as the black boxes.

Comments (86) Join the discussion on the forum

  • brillomaster 16 Dec 2011

    i think far more accidents are caused by human error than computer error - obviously there will be teething problems though!

  • v8will 16 Dec 2011

    Reminds me of a sign I saw many years ago.

    To err is human, to foul up completely requires a computer.

  • Draexin 16 Dec 2011

    Article said:
    These systems have been round a while but we're breeding a generation of drivers who, eventually, might never have had to make these kind of decisions themselves.
    Exactly!

    Here in the Netherlands, apparently quite a few accidents were caused by people relying too much on what their sat-nav told them to do, ploughing right into ditches because they didn't look but blindly trusted their TomTom or Garmin...
    Being able to use electronic aids such a sat-nav are a requirement for driving tests/lessons now.

    However, when using sat-nav *you* are still in control of the car..
    Things get really scary when the car (partially) drives itself.

  • soad 16 Dec 2011

    Good read, thanks. Not a fan of endless electronic gadgets wizardry myself frown

  • 964Cup 16 Dec 2011

    I think ESP, ABS and the rest of the safety TLAs have terrific value as back ups to your ability. If you start using them to drive beyond your own talent, you're bound to come a cropper at some point.

    I've valued ESP most when - for instance - driving gently, but tired, and coming across a patch of diesel on a bend. Having the car cut power and continue round unruffled was vastly preferable to having to summon a sudden correction from my weary reflexes. The same goes for ACC (radar cruise); I always covered the brake when using it, but it was the best thing ever in fog - set it to maximum range, drive at the right speed for the conditions and it would likely pick up the car in front before you saw it. I still always drove at a speed which meant I could stop within visual range, but could be much more relaxed about it.

    On the other hand my race car now has no driver aids at all, by choice, since my biggest crash can be blamed on over-reliance on ABS (and on stupidity, and overconfidence, and overdriving etc - it was still my fault).

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