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

  • Rich_W 20 Dec 2011

    I've just read the report on popular mechanics.

    How could that young (32) co-pilot be such a retard! His stupidity is directly responsible for those deaths! eek

    Granted I can't fly at all. But surely pulling back for ages and ages. And the place screaming 75 times "STALL!" makes you wonder what the fk he was playing at. rolleyes Surely basic flight lessons tell you if you keep climbing eventually the thing stops flying!

  • ploz 20 Dec 2011

    pagani1 said:
    Having just read the Air France Flight 447 story-this is the same scenario that crashed Concord-a flight deck of uncoordinated idiots-Motto to myself NEVER fly Air France
    I'm afraid the Concord crash was a very different bouilloire des poissons. The flight was doomed from the point that the tyre burst. They had a very experienced flight crew who did well in the circumstances.

  • pagani1 20 Dec 2011

    Having just read the Air France Flight 447 story-this is the same scenario that crashed Concord-a flight deck of uncoordinated idiots-Motto to myself NEVER fly Air France

  • Blown2CV 20 Dec 2011

    renrut said:
    Blown2CV said:
    renrut said:
    Scuffers said:
    renrut said:
    Toyota wrecked their perfect reliability record in the last few years due to software problems.

    what software problem?

    they had a quality issue with the drive-by-wire throttle pedal assemblies (Made in China along with a load of other OEM's ones), nothing to do with software (although they have also now changed the DBW SW to include throttle drop on brake application)
    I had heard there was a software element to it, I must have been mistaken. Regardless the point still stands - the cars didn't work as intended. Could that happen again? Very likely. Would you want that on cars that are driving themselves?
    If it is drive by wire then there will be a software element to it
    Likely but not necessarily - could be dodgy potentiometer or something like that.
    sorry what i meant was, there would be a software component to the architecture of the accelerator, not that it was part of the fault.

  • ploz 20 Dec 2011

    Renrut - you seem to give the computers the ability to spontaneously act in a reckless manner. In actuallity, all they can do is follow a set af pre-determined rules and make decisions within that rule set. Humans, on the ohter hand, tend to routinely bend the rules - "I'm late - therefore I'll drive a little faster through this fog erroding my safety margins, but I'll be OK". Bearing in mind that the sorts of sensors likely to be used by autonomous vehicles will operate in different spectra to our eyes, driving autonomously through fog is likely to be quicker and safer than driving manually.

    You could create a set of rules where the system refuses to continue in a set of circumstances where it determines that safety is erroded beyond a certain limit and then 'offers' control to a more gung-ho human driver, but may be this situation is not so different to the driver today who decides he would rather drive in slippery conditions with all ESP etc turned off. How does that situation play out in Court if he causes death by dangerouse drivibng having turned all aids of that might have prevented that accident?

    Good argument by the way - we should do this more often!

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