I’ve long since established by bona fides as a technophile, so writing articles for a technology-focused issue is right up my alley. I want to close this issue, though, by reminding us all that the single most important piece of technology in the aircraft is — drum roll, please — the human who is operating the controls.
Machines can make our lives easier and accomplish tedious tasks much faster (and better) than we can. Even so, the well-documented challenges in developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) show that there is still no technology superior to the human brain. Our brains are the repository of wide-ranging knowledge, life experience, and intuition. Without any conscious effort, we are constantly combining, refining, and reframing mixtures of that knowledge, education, and intuition to meet each new situation or challenge that we encounter. When you pause to ponder the wonder that is your own brain, it is positively awe-inspiring.
Use Your Head
The sad thing is that too many times, too many of us put too much faith in the shiny new technologies. I certainly include myself in that group. But then the gadget goes awry, and I find myself muttering (okay, sometimes even swearing) about how technology is great … except when it isn’t. You probably don’t have to think very long or very hard to recall technological troubles with just about every device you use.
So I am trying to train myself to think and work with technology in the same way I think about dealing with weather. When it comes to tackling the meteorological elements, the pilot and the plane constitute a team; each brings something to the party, but neither can compensate fully for the other’s weaknesses. Applying that construct to technology, it’s important to remember that things go best (and safest) when the human actor and the mechanical/ electronic factor both bring their A game to the flight. In addition to being physically and mentally healthy, the human needs to provide the attitude, the aptitude, and the attention. The machine needs to be in tip-top condition. You probably realize that it’s pretty much always up to the human to ensure that both elements of the “team” meet those requirements.
Listen to “Gut Feelings”
Though he is not personally known to me, I count author Malcolm Gladwell among my mentors because I have learned so much from the piercing perceptions and keen insights in his body of work. One of my favorite Gladwell books is Blink. It explores the reasoned underpinnings of so-called snap judgments and gut feelings that a narrow definition of reason would compel us to dismiss. In essence, Blink contends that human beings take in a great deal more information than we can consciously, or “rationally,” process. Nevertheless, other parts of the brain do note, process, and catalog information that might eventually be served up in the form of eye-blink conclusions, or in a kind of diffuse but gnawing sense of unease. Don’t forget that “all available information” might well include those instant “doesn’t look right” observations. Since listening to the “doesn’t feel right” instinct might be key to keeping the number of landings equal to the number of takeoffs, always investigate and resolve such issues before you leave the ground or, if already underway, before you continue.
Trust … but Verify
Former president Ronald Reagan made this Russian proverb famous in the context of an arms reduction treaty, but the advice certainly applies just as well to your dealings with technology. As Wikipedia notes: “Trust, but verify recommends that while a source of information might be considered reliable, one should perform additional research to verify that such information is accurate, or trustworthy.”
When it comes to technology, I can’t possibly improve on that advice. (FAA Safety Briefing – MayJun 2016)