The New York Times, August 12, 1989 Automated Planes Raising Concerns, by Carl Levin Airlines are starting to fly a new generation of highly automated jets, raising concerns among safety researchers that pilots will rely too much on the technology and will lose or never learn the sharp skills and reflexes needed in emergencies. The first scientific study to compare pilots' performance in highly automated and traditional cockpits began Tuesday In Atlanta. Researchers at the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the results would help them improve training for pilots who fly the advanced planes and suggest ways to better design future craft. The most advanced planes, like the Airbus A320 and Boeing's 757 and 767 models, require little of the hands-on flying skill that older models need. For years, planes have had autopilots to keep level and make simple turns, but with the newest equipment pilots can push a few buttons and lean back while the plane flies to its destination and Iands on a predetermined runway. Virtually every calculation is made by computer. More Control to Machines "We're taking more and more of those functions out of human control and giving them to the machines," said Dr. Clay Foushee, the chief F.A.A. scientist for human performance Issues. "The question becomes whether humans will really respond when something goes wrong." Aviation experts cite the performance of the pilots of two disabled United Airlines jets in recent months as examples of how basic flying skills and years of experience can make a big difference in emergencies. After a disintegrating tail engine crippled the hydraulic system on a DC-10 on July 19, Capt. Altred C. Haynes, a 33-year United veteran, and his crew devised a way to crash-land the plane in Sioux City, lowa. Of the 296 people aboard, 185 survived. Capt. David M. Cronin, also a United pilot for three decades, cited his crew's extensive experience in the safe landing of his Boeing 747 in Honolulu in February after a cargo door and large section of fuselage blew off the plane, knocking out two of its four engines and killing nine passengers: Airlines See New Planes as Safer "Here's two examples of unforeseen Qand in fact some engineers would have said impossibleQtypes of failures that were dealt with creatively by human operators," said Bob Buley, a flight standards manager at Northwest Airlines. "If we have human operators subordinated to technology then we're going to lose that creativity. I don't have computers that will do that; I just don't." Airlines like the equipment because it keeps a plane closer to its course than a pilot can, cutting costs and increasing safety in some operations. The head of pilot training for United William H. Traub, said that the carrier had been flying highly automated Boeing 767's since 1982 and that he knew of no deviations greater than 300 feet from assigned altitudes. "In that respect it's a safer system," he said in a telephone interview. Leading the parade of new technology is the A320, a jetliner made by the European consortium Airbus Industrie, which began passenger service in this country last month. Northwest is buying 100 of the jets and has started flying the first two. Braniff, with 50 on order and 50 on option, plans to put its first A320 into service this month. In addition to the increased use of automatic cockpit controls, the A320 eliminates virtually all direct mechanicaI or hydraulic Iinks to movable surfaces on the wings and tail that direct a plane's speed and angle of flight. Five computers translate a pilot's actions into electronic commands that move surfaces, changing the plane's speed and direction. Computers can control the speed and direction of flight more accurately than any human pilot but even aviators who defend the A32O say the extensive use of automation raises questions about a pilot's ability to respond quickly in an emergency. Looking for 'Ideal Balance' "In my perfect world we marry the advantages or automation and the creative attributes or human operators," said Mr. Buley of Northwest. "The A320 is a quantum leap ahead. What I'm looking for is the ideal balance, and I'm not sure we've reached that with that airplane." The equipment on the new planes is more reliable than before, and it can relieve pilots of routine duties that might distract them from more important tasks. For example, in the Boeing 767, computers automatically calculate and adjust the descent speed to use the least fuel for the distance traveled, one pilot noted. In the older Boeing 727, pilots go through "constant mental gymnastics" to make the calculation themselves, the pilot said. But just as some educators argue that a pupil with a calculator might not learn basic principles of mathematics, aviation researchers say pilots who depend too much on computers might not be as quick to determine the correct descent speed on his own if the computer fails as would the 727 pilot who does this on every flight. Cockpit crew complacency and boredom are another issue, and these problems are highlighted by a separate airline industry study of automation and pilot performance. The F.A.A. and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are building on the airline study and the Atlanta research to develop a national program to improve the ways technology is used in aviation. Other concerns listed by the airline group, Ied by Mr. Buley of Northwest, include the problems pilots face when automated equipment fails and the deterioration of basic flying skills. Pilots Share Concern Pilots themselves share these concerns, according to a recent space agency study of 200 pilots who have been flying the Boeing 757 for airlines. about half agreed with the statement "I am concerned about a possible loss of my fIying skills with too much automation." Even so, nearly 90 percent of the pilots agreed that the new instruments were "a big step forward." Many of these questions will come up again Sept. 18-19 when Dr. Foushee and representatives from manufacturers and airlines meet to discuss the national plan for improving the way people use technology in aviation. Adding to the urgency of the research is the current boom in pilot hiring. Over the next decade a new generation of pilots will be climbing into cockpits, and virtually all their airline training will come in the new jets. "What happens when the automation fails?" asked Earl L. Wiener of the University of Miami, an expert in pilot performance who is directing the Atlanta study. "A collision is coming between very inexperienced pilots and very sophisticated aircraft." To be sure, today's pilots have the advantage of extensive training on advanced cockpit simulators, which duplicate every movement a plane would make. A pilot in a simulator can practice fIying after losing various computer and control systems. "There have been many simulator advances that hopefully will give pilots training advantages that an older generation of pilots didn't have," Dr. Foushee said. Still, while simulator training could help for some kinds of emergencies, others, like the loss of the hydraulic system in the DC-10 in lowa, are considered so remote that pilots do not train for them on simulators. Besides examining how well pilots respond in emergencies, researchers hope to examine any differences in the ways pilots work with one another in automated and conventional cockpits, said Dr. Everett Palmer of NASA's Ames Research Center, which is financing the study led by Dr. Wiener.
Mike Trout quotes BBC News, ... pointing out that flight crews need to do something "critical" to the success of the flight. The solution may be right under our noses. How often, in this forum, have we discussed applying tests of "reasonableness" to computer-generated answers to problems? It seems that such tests are critically needed in the cockpit, the most obvious example being Flight KAL 007. Such reasonableness checks as humans would be capable of performing, would be far from "make work" and would reduce significantly some of the risks associated with increasingly automated flying. ...or so it seems from here. _Brint
RISKS 9.15 highlighted a phenomenon [I am tempted to say, "problem."] that I've noted in RISKS for some time: We tend to want computerized systems to be very much more reliable than non-computerized systems. For example, is my Seiko watch reliable? Yes. Has it ever failed? Yes; the original battery ran down after 5 years. Does it run exactly in synchronization with the Naval Observatory master clock? No; it gains about a second a week. Is that OK? Yes! It's great! Is my old '66 Pontiac reliable? Yes. Has it ever failed? Sure; batteries have gone dead; a tire blew out; water pump failed (at about 90K miles); alternator failed (about the same time); tune ups needed every 3 years; ... I've probably belabored the point too long already. Folks, we've been spoiled by our own successes. I'm all upset with the maker of the hard disk in my Mac II, because it needs to be replaced after only 18 months. I have to stop and think about where I began, in 1960. The computer we had then was less than 10% the horsepower of my Mac; it had a miserable collection of "user tools" - the best being a FORTRAN II (yes, "2") compiler. And it went down at least 4 hours every week for "maintenance." And it cost a million dollars (or so); so the whole base [not China Lake] got by on just one. But can we improve? You bet. My Norelco shaver [first one] lasted 7 years; that's a lot better than the hard drive in either my old Mac +, or this Mac II. Maybe Norelco should teach "brand X" disk drive maker about motors? Bob
We seem to have more than our share, in the Digest, of horror stories about computer failures in stock exchanges, motor vehicle records, aircraft control systems, weapons control systems, and banking applications. While I have not sampled the subjects scientifically, it seems as if we've not had quite so many horror stories in medical applications. (Of course, I'm not asserting that there have been none!) Several years ago, a few colleagues from the Lab and myself consulted with the Shock-Trauma Unit of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Service Systems regarding their use of computing in clinical applications. At the time, they used a DEC computer for patient records, testing results, pharmacy and medical orders, etc. It included software which "integrated" these applications so that the attending physician could trace the effectiveness of medicines and therapies with time. (Shock-Trauma gets the most seriously injured patients, often flown in by the MD State Police in helicopters landed on premises.) An important concern of the medical personnnel at the time was computer failure. Although the physicians initially resisted the machines' intrusion into their domain, they had ultimately been "won over" and became quite fond of and dependent upon the computer. Virtually every medical person in the unit learned, voluntarily, how to re-boot the system in the event of a crash — which was relatively often. This was the late 1970s. They wanted to know if they could justify the funds to purchase a fully redundant system. There were two interchangeable computers doing different functions (one was not critical). They felt that a third machine would give them the security of always having their data available, but they needed justification and support from so-called "experts," i.e. us. Well, we gave them what they needed, but that is not the point of the story. The points are: 1. Is my perception correct? Are there proportionally more life and property threatening computer-related faults in banking, transportation, and national defense than in medical applcations? 2. If there's even a modicum of truth in #1, then why? Certainly the hardware and software aren't unique in the hospital. Is it a matter of how they're used? Is there more emphasis on redundancy and reliablilty and less on moving it faster and making another buck? Are the machines introduced into new applications more gradually, so that users are assured of correct operation at every step of the way? 3. Or are the physicians merely burying their mistakes again? _Brint
I like the Petroski book ["To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design"]. It is an excellent example of design and the problems that are inherent in pushing technology beyond what science can yet (ever?) provide. This is especially true when people chide me about human interface technology and say something like "How come interface design isn't `scientific', like, say, bridge design." I tell them to read Petroski and then tell me about bridges. I recommend Petroski to all my friends and students. (I am happy to say that someone told me that he, in turn, recommended my book.) don
The quoted reports on the problems with the Tandem system at the Toronto Stock Exchange are a good example of the difficulty the news media have with reporting on complext technological stories. As someone who works with a Tandem system, I can point out a few things that may be of value to Risks readers: Tandem computers do not have "backup systems" as such. Instead, the design incorporates redundant components — all of which perform work under normal conditions. The minimum system Tandem will normally sell you is one with TWO CPUs, and at least one of the discs ($System — the one with the operating system) mirrored. How failsafe a system is depends a lot on how the system is configured. Most Tandem systems have at least some of the discs unmirrored. (That's usually an economic decision.) With mirrored discs, data is always written to both discs. However since it neads to be read from only one, there are situations where different reads can be performed at the same time on the two halves of the mirrored pair — which will actually provide a gain in performance for some operations. Based on the quoted reports, I assume that the failures at the stock exchange involved both halves of a mirrored disc pair -- though that's not obvious. I'd be interested in hearing additional details, if they are reported. (Mail to me, if you don't think this is of interest to the Risks audience.) My opinions are my own and probably not IBM-compatible.--ehr Ernest H. Robl (ehr@ecsvax) (919) 684-6269 w; (919) 286-3845 h Systems Specialist (Tandem System Manager), Library Systems, 027 Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, NC 27706 U.S.A.
In RISKS 9.15, Peter Roosen-Runge brings us the following quotes: A computer crash all but shut down trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange for almost three hours yesterday, forcing tens of millions of dollars' worth of trades to Montreal. ... [the crash] — a multiple failure within a disc-drive subsystem — forced a halt at 9:41 AM. ... `Two pieces of hardware break down and Bay Street breaks down.' said a sour Charles Mitchell, trader. ... `Who's accountable for that?' ... A TSE spokeswoman said the failure of both primary and backup systems had never occurred since computers were installed 26 years ago. ... My rough calculations indicate that the system availability has been 99.9986% for those 26 years. Who, indeed, IS responsible for that — give them a reward! `Everybody's very much annoyed,' McLean McCarthy's Mitchell said. `It's costing us a lot of money. I think the people upstairs in the exchange should be held accountable for it.' How much were these people making with the chalkboard system? It is human nature to demand perfection from everyone and everything else. Have these folks ever heard of business insurance? It should have been very inexpensive given the prior availability of the system. Along with our efforts to reduce risks in our trade, do we not need to educate users in risk management? Rich D'Ippolito
I few weeks ago, I spent a couple of nights at a fairly nice hotel on the East Coast. You could tell it was a nice place because the remote control for the TV was not bolted to a table. I was intrigued by the notice that was pasted to the remote: CAUTION: The frequency of this television remote will damage the internal electronics of any set not programmed to receive the spectradyne signal. My first reaction was to chuckle at this rather obvious attempt to scare light-fingered but gullible clientele out of "offing" the remote. But I got to wondering. Is there any possible truth to this? If there is, how do I know that my VCR remote, say, won't damage my TV? And if my TV was damaged, wouldn't that be evidence of really poor design? I suspect that the worst "risk" here is that some guests of this hotel are going to get a very warped idea of reality.
Actually, many computerized balancing/alignment systems are very, very simple (even for mechanics :-). Monitoring devices are attached to the wheels while the car is on a lift. The car's data is looked up in a book and entered in by hand on a large number of the machines. (I have a car not in "the book" and have had to provide my own data.) Then you procede to align/balance by looking at a rather basic "under/correct/over" meter for each wheel. There are probably a half-dozen other ways to do balancing/alignment, and probably a thousand variations on the above theme... J. Eric Townsend, 511 Parker #2, Houston, Tx 77007
More likely, the mechanic was not "machine literate". I ran into a similar problem: I had a flat repaired, and the shop (run by the company that made the tires) balanced the tire as part of the repair. At the same time, I purchased a "lifetime balancing and flat repair" contract. Driving home, I noticed a slight shimmy that wasn't there that morning. The next morning, I took the car in for a complete rebalancing. And when I drove home, the shimmy was worse - much worse. The next day, I went back to the shop and complained. This time I watched as the tires were balanced. What had happened was that the "mechanic" (I use that term loosely) did not have a properly sized chuck for the wheel balancing machine. So he used one that was "close". As a result, the wheel was able to move from side to side while it was being tested, with the result that the weights were put in random (?) locations. The moral? If you don't trust computers, don't trust the people that do. -kdg [So it would be very easy to key in wrong data for the given car, or correct data for the wrong car, etc. Thanks. PGN]
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