Recently I watched the movie Sully with Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. Perhaps you have seen it too? It made me ask this question: who do incident investigators trust more – people or computers?
For those who haven’t seen the movie or know the story of the US Airways flight 1549, I will briefly tell you what happened. Right after take-off from La Guardia Airport in New York, the plane encountered a flock of birds, several of which flew right into both jet engines, causing them to stop running. With no thrust available anymore the Airbus A-320 lost altitude fast and could only glide towards destruction because it could not return back to La Guardia nor reach Teterboro airport. The only option would be to land on water of the Hudson River.
That decision saved the lives of 155 people. Captain Sullenberger became a hero overnight. It is what happened after this remarkable landing about which I wanted to write today. Airline and government authorities claimed that the pilot could have and therefore should have landed at either airport because a computer simulation said so. Immediately Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles were accused of recklessness, jeopardising the passengers and crew, and destroying the airplane. Of course, Sully and his crew could not believe what they heard. Their handling, split-second decision making, and successful landing were questioned, because a computer had decided so. Their very humanity seemed irrelevant.
In an official hearing it was this ‘Human Factor’ which was proposed by Sully as the decisive element. His 40-odd years of experience and the help of his co-pilot, his numerous landings and the overall control over this airplane type, made him, within 35 seconds, decide that in order to have a chance, the only option would be to land on water. His contemplation, thinking, empathy, deliberation, brain functioning, imagination, concern, friendship, just to name a few ‘human only’ abilities, gave him the correct conclusion.
The question you may ask is: would a computer simulation be able to do the same? Modern times may provide us with computer-generated, algorithmic probability patterns, statistical chance calculations, even real-life situation simulations, but they miss one crucial, indispensable factor: the human one. Through complexity science, we can understand that technological systems only predict linearity, but can’t foresee non-linearity, which is simply too complex. Computer simulation does not include human decision making, because it can’t.
In our world of transport there is talk of unmanned ships, unmanned trucks or unmanned airplanes to move our goods from A to B. Imagine what would have happened if an autonomous airplane had flown that day? Would it have landed on water or would it have been programmed to always land on an airstrip? If that is the case, it would have destroyed a large part of New York, because the human factor was not programmed in the software running the Airbus. Perhaps a good idea is to think about re-humanisation rather than de-humanisation, because that is what is happening. The uncertainty principle can’t be programmed, only people can maximise safety.
This is the latest in a series of articles by Arend van Campen, founder of TankTerminalTraining. More information on the company’s activities can be found at www.tankterminaltraining.com. Those interested in responding personal
Requisite Variety (First Law of Cybernetics) and The Paradise Papers A situation can only be controlled if the variety of the controller
matches the variety of the situation to be controlled. •The system/person with the most flexibility of behaviour will have the
most influence on the system. The more choices one has, the more freedom is
felt and the better the quality of life. •It is impossible to control for every variable so most variety is
absorbed through relationships with other systems •Only Variety can absorb Variety •It means that in Risk Management, only enough variety in your system
can absorb, or control risks originating from outside variety. •By using feedback, this information is fed into the system to allow the
system to adjust and learn constantly. •It is impossible to control all Risks as systems fluctuate by
information from a constant changing variety (environment). An organism or organisation
generates tremendous variety and tries to control it in its own wa…
29.12.2018 - Amended October 15, 2019
Thoughts about the need to sustain life
on earth, drew me to a conclusion: There is a need for a new science, a theory
of everything; a science of reality.
This science can measure and determine the difference between
what is real and what is not. When we apply this science to what people do, we
can easily conclude that what is unreal, cannot be sustained and generally is
When we look at political processes, industrial products,
societal governance or ‘war’ games, they usually are trying to exist beyond
limits of reality and do so by force. They try to exist outside of reality because
when we would measure their ‘realism’ we would soon find that they can only be
pursued at the cost of…..(collateral damage such as people, environment, social cohesion).
This makes them immediately unsustainable because they are harmful
to something, someone, somewhere. This harmfulness is due to the (ab) use of
resources (people, plants, animals. materials…
When an organisation, corporation, industry or political
process are understood as living systems, their interconnected and
interdependent relationships within and outside of their networks change all
the time. This complexity, due to dynamic and perpetually changing information
feedback loops, can’t be managed by direct causal action (cause and effect
reactions) but can only be maximally controlled by steering with that
information in real time. Adaptability to constantly evolving changes by using
all information directly is needed to ensure continuity and longevity of the
living system. Nature works like that too. Complexity is a consequence of a
myriad of unknown factors, relationships and reliance which nevertheless have a
direct impact on organisations and can only be ‘controlled’ by learning and
actual adaptation in real time. These so-called non linear effects or non
causal stimuli from often unknown, but interconnected and interdependent
sources, can’t be controlled by old-fa…