Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Conscious airplanes

The White House and Capitol in Washington DC were evacuated today because a small Cessna 150 airplane strayed into restricted airspace:In this case it appears to have been a complete accident -- the pilot was a student.

Within 10 years or so, airplanes will start being equipped with a rudimentary form of consciousness that makes this sort of accident, as well as intentional attacks, impossible. The book Manna, chapter 3, describes the progression.

The system will work like this. Airplanes can already detect their exact location using GPS systems. These GPS systems will be married to very detailed digital maps of the ground and the airspace over the ground. The maps will tell the airplane where every single building and structure is on the ground, and mark all areas of restricted airspace. So if a pilot steers a plane toward a building or a restricted area, a "conscious" plane will refuse to fly there. It will be, quite literally, impossible for a conscious plane to fly into a building -- the plane will "know" that flying into a building is "wrong." If all the engines fail, a conscious plane will know what is on the ground in the vicinity and do its best to crash into an unpopulated area.

As this happens, of course, planes are able to fly themselves. Pilots go extinct, and airplanes become completely automatic. Human pilots are eliminated from the cockpit because they cannot be trusted. See Manna and Robotic Nation for details.

You could possibly still confuse the plane by messing with the GPS signal it receives. So, I think we would also need some form of encryption in regards to the GPS comms between the plane and satellites.
It will not be possible to retrofit this system onto existing Cessna 150s.
You are forgetting that if we make the Cessna a robot then it will be able to retrofit itself.
Though "the pilot was a student", reports I read indicated he was accompanied by a (probably, now, 'used to be') instructor. ;^) - blzbob
One flaw with a system like this is that it prevents the user from making a rational, informed decision in the event that the automation might bring into greater harms way then to avoid restricted airspace.

If, for example, the plane needs to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a tree, mountain or another plane and the only escape route is close to the vicinity of a building or restricted airspace then the pilot will be locked into a path that could cause an accident. At least an airplane has five degrees of motion to provide other exit strategies.

I suppose the plane could be smart enough to account for this, but building a system that has no back doors and work arounds can lock you into something that might be worse then problem it was designed to solve.
The criticisms read like two New York Times editorials; the first, advising Dr. Langley to stop jeopardizing his scientific reputation by wasting time on 'air experiments' (this was 10 days before the Wrights' flight at Kitty Hawk) ... the second, (not learning anything from the first) criticizing Dr. Goddard for not realizing that, in 'airless space', the rocket would have nothing to 'push against'. The last one stated that even high school students knew better than Goddard. 'Thank Heavens' (as 'they' say) for the New York Times (et al). ;^) - blzbob
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