They only have this line in their mouths: artificial intelligence. “AI” will do this and that, and it’ll be far more efficient than us humans. And of course, it’s going to steal our jobs and expect worse!
We’re going to try to be more reasonable, more rational, for a moment, of course! There has never been so much automation on Earth. Never before have there been so many humans. Never before have so many jobs been filled. Lavoisier’s maxim: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed” is perhaps still valid today. And its much older inspiration, the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras, put it differently, but with equal relevance: “Nothing is born or perishes, but things already existing combine and then separate again. The limit of this reasoning ends in front of the guillotine, since it was under its blade that Lavoisier ended his life in 1794 with the benevolent grace of the Revolution. And if nothing is lost, much is created. It’s not like water… Present since the beginning on Earth.
But it is true that tools, then automatons, and finally calculators and memories, and everything that goes with them, have changed the world in a few centuries, and turned it upside down in a few decades. We are no longer in the era of data bases but of Big-Data. And computing power. Everything is counted in millions of billions, petabytes of storage units and in petaflops, the unit of computation per second: Thus, in 2018, the American Summit (of IBM) was the most powerful computer in the world with its 122 petaflops or 122 million billion operations per second.
Thus it is indisputable that computer memories are capable of storing huge amounts of data, and computers are capable of using them, at speeds that are “astronomical” for us. Surely the human brain will be, if it is not already, totally overwhelmed by these assemblies of processors and memories that grow at logarithmic speeds. But “a well-made head is better than a full head”, and what about emotion, initiative, temptation and disobedience? What do we do with love and hatred or resentment? Will we also know how to put them into equations? Why not? But, it is man who invents the machine… If he is outdated, will the machine have ambitions of its own. In what world?
All this, through my many readings and my many exchanges, still seems far away to me. I remember that our manufacturers of planes, ships, vehicles, weapons, know and want to use all these impressive capacities, but that they do not know how to deprive themselves of the human operator. The political act is a human responsibility. And many others.
We remember that it was by taking initiatives and making some mistakes, even mistakes, that the crew of the US Airways Airbus A320 made a life-saving landing on the Hudson in 2009. But, if you reread the NTSB accident report carefully, you can also see that the pilots lost nearly a minute, precious and strategic out of the nearly four they had, trying to restart their engines, which were full of Canada geese. Good diagnostic tools could have deterred them from losing that time, because the investigation showed that it was impossible, and who knows, then that minute would have been enough to aim directly at the Teterboro runway. Friendlier than water. … So no question of depriving ourselves of the exploitation of data provided by the sensors, the computers, combined with the “experience” of the accessible and immense memory. The commander of the submarine in hunt or escape, the operator of the robot on the planet Mars, 20 minutes away from any terrestrial signal, the pilot of the drone that programs his machine, safe from danger, can no longer do without decision aids, automaton actors, and other valuable modern expert systems. But let’s not forget that so far, no novel or poem has ever won a literary prize, let alone the heart of a beautiful one!
Like Boeing, Airbus is developing the automated systems that will be in charge of piloting aircraft in the decades to come. But neither of them envisage for the moment that the pilots will remain on the ground, or that they will disappear altogether. The certification of the planes, which is due to the passengers, a guarantee of their safety (and their security) aims at a 10-9 risk. Without men on board the challenge does not seem tenable for several decades. And since man is fallible, if it is required to have one on board, it will take two… SPO, Single Pilot Operating, requires two operators. But nothing prevents them from finding other tasks on board while they “manage” their aircraft. At Dassault, an expert on its “Rafale” aircraft, pilots are not made to get off the board of future Falcon aircraft either. But it is true that a single pilot at the front, powerfully assisted by powerful and almost autonomous automatic systems, will allow the second pilot to rest during long missions, and at the same time pamper the passengers, thus reducing the need for onboard personnel. Airplanes fly so long!
In a seemingly critical situation, it will always be easier for novice passengers to talk to one of their fellow passengers than with an interface as intelligent as it is but devoid of emotion. And let’s not forget that passengers will be able to express their opinions when the time comes. So let’s reasonably and resolutely accompany the development of all systems using what we dare to call “AI”, but without falling into the trap. And let’s not forget that intelligence is not only a memory associated with a computing capacity. Intelligence is not an algorithm… for now!
Michel Polacco for Aeromorning.com