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Old 08-28-2015, 05:27 PM   #21
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If worse came to worse, can you manually fly these planes? Inquiring passenger wants to know.
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Old 08-28-2015, 08:00 PM   #22
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If worse came to worse, can you manually fly these planes? Inquiring passenger wants to know.
Sure. Flight crews do this frequently during landing. In fact I would venture to say that commercial airliners are more often landed manually than using autoland, although the autoland works just fine. However, what an autopilot/autothrottle/autoland system cannot do is anticipate. It reacts, and it can react very fast, but it can't anticipate.

A good example of this is one I was given by a United 747 pilot (I used to be involved in the production of United's TV commercials) who described to me why he hated doing autolands an Honolulu International Airport. At the time HNL had only one long runway, Runway 8, which also had the only ILS approach.

The approach to runway 8 (today runway 8L) comes in over the entrance channel to Pearl Harbor. At that point the planes are very low, only a few hundred feet up. Cooler air sinks, warmer air rises. So the plane would be tracking the ILS just fine on autoland with the power being set by the autothrottle. On short final in an established descent the power was back pretty much at flight idle.

Then the plane would fly over the Pearl Harbor entrance channel and into the sinking, cooler air above the water. The plane would drop suddenly with the air, The auto throttle would immediately add power. But unlike a reciprocating engine, a turbofan has to spool up before it actually starts generating additional thrust and it takes a bit once more thrust is generated for it to overcome the inertia of the plane. So there is a delay of several to a lot of seconds between the power levers going forward and something actually happening.

The plane was across the channel in seconds and back in the warmer air over land, so the drop was never enough to actually get the plane in trouble. But the pilot told me it was very nerve wracking to sit there knowing this sudden sink was coming and that he couldn't do anything about it (at the time pilots were required to perform x-number of autolands a month to remain current),

Normally, he said, they hand-flew the plane down final approach, which meant that before they got to the Pearl Harbor entrance channel they would add power and get the engines spooled up in advance of actually needing the thrust to stay on the glide path as they crossed the channel.

In other words, the pilots could anticipate what was coming and prepare the plane for it where the autopilot/autothrottle was just sitting there fat, dumb and happy until something happened at which point it would react.

BUT..... as airplane's flight management systems become more and more sophisticated and capable, it's possible to program in "anticipation" using known conditions or occurrences data. So the Pearl Harbor entrance channel "sink" could be programmed into a flight management system. It would "know" what was coming and could get the engine's spooled up in anticipation of needing more thrust.

Combine this with the vastly improved information coming from sensors on the ground in terms of temperatures, air movement, etc. which can be transmitted to the plane, and automation can indeed be "taught" to anticipate.

While human pilots always erupt in howls of protest over this, I can tell you that both Boeing and Airbus and the designers of flight management systems are very actively working on perfecting the pilotless commercial airliner. It can actually be done now very easily although there is more work to be done on the "anticipation" aspect I described above because of the staggering number of variables that can affect an aircraft in flight.

The other obstacle, of course, is passenger acceptance. In fact that is the harder hurdle to clear, not safely automating the plane. But it will happen eventually, just as manned elevators gave way to automatic elevators the world over and today people think nothing of getting into the elevators in the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building, and heading up a half a mile in a box at 50 mph.

Not that there won't be anyone who knows about the plane on board. But the role of the flight crew will initially be replaced with an airplane "systems manager" who, from the design studies I've seen, most likely won't even be where the flight deck is today but will be with the flight management systems hardware in the e-bay, which these days is in the lower lobe of the plane under the first class cabin (on multi-class airplanes). The flight deck will cease to exist and be used to generate revenue with more seats like the main deck of the 747. And eventually, the systems manager won't even be needed.

But don't lie awake at night worrying about your next flight to visit Aunt Sue in Cleveland, as the chief mechanic for the 777 program used to say. This level of automation is a long ways off yet, relatively speaking.

What is interesting is to witness the attitude of the young engineers joining Boeing (and I assume Airbus: both companies are virtually identical except for their locations). They are not saddled with the traditional views of flight crews and flight decks and control input systems and whatnot. They are thinking full automation right out of college. And, in thirty years, they will be the ones calling the shots and running the airplane programs at both companies.

I am producing a video right now about the new engineers joining the company and it's amazing to hear them talk and express their visions of the future of aviation.

Next year marks Boeing's 100th anniversary. Given the acceleration of technology, the next 100 years will be mind blowing, at least to people like us if we were here to see it. To the people running the company then, it will be their normal.

Below is one of my favorite photos, Orville Wright (L) standing under the engine of a Lockheed Constellation in 1944. In 41 years the airplane had progressed from the Wright Flyer to the Constellation. Forty one years from now, I suspect commercial aviation will not even remotely resemble what we know today.
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Old 08-28-2015, 08:17 PM   #23
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Thanks for the answer Marin, good write up.
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Old 08-29-2015, 01:00 AM   #24
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Marin, a lot of what you say just isn't all that true....or outdated. First off, I was thinking GC was asking about fly-by-wire manual reversion. And if he wasn't, OF COURSE WE CAN FLY THESE PLANES!!!! Sorry man...but I am insulted if that is the gist of your question. Marin is correct that we fly the vast majority of approaches by hand.....95% maybe. If the weather is really snotty, then we leave the autopilot on and autothrottles. And if it is really really snotty, we are required to leave the autopilot on for an autoland. How else would you expect us to land the airplane if we cannot see ANYTHING??? Yes, we can land an airplane full of people without seeing a thing!!! THe approach procedure still requires a "minimum" visibility but that minimum visibility is related to the ability to taxi clear of the runway and to the gate and it in no way affects the decision making during the approach. It is only required to start the approach. What good is a zero visibility approach procedure if you cannot clear the runway after you land???...it would be good for one airplane.

As far as "anticipation" and autothrottles and turbofans go..... We are required to add at least 5 knots to our ref speed of we are manually flying the airplane. We add even more for higher wind conditions and gusts. If we leave the autorthrottles engaged, then we do NOT add anything to ref speed. IOW, the autothrottles correct quicker than we do and do not need the added "cushion" of extra airpseed.

WHen on final in a modern turbojet, you have close to 60% power stabilized with full flaps and the gear down. IOW, the engines are spooled up and will respond almost instantaneously. Granted, if you do have the thrust levers at flight idle it will take about 1.5 seconds to spool. But if you have the thrust levers at flight idle while close to the ground(below 500 feet), you are screwing up. 500 feet is the final "gate" where everything needs to be on the nuts. ANd if you are at flight idle at 500 feet trying to slow down(or go down) then you have screwed up....big time and a go around should be initiated.

As far as pilotless airiners go...I will not get on one without a pilot. There is a disclaimer all through every manual we have. And the gist of it is that "while these procedures try to cover every contingency, there is no way possible to do so"!!!! IOW, if the writers of a book cannot cover every contingency, how can a computer programmer(for the pilotless aircraft) do so???? They leave those sort of contingencies to the human pilot.....the contingencies no one could have possibly predicted....until it happened.
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Old 08-29-2015, 01:19 AM   #25
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As i said, human pilots will howl with outrage.. But it's coming. The industry is betting its future on it. Threr is stuff in the development stages that would make your head spin.
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Old 08-29-2015, 09:15 AM   #26
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"As far as pilotless airiners go...I will not get on one without a pilot."

I guess you never venture on an Airbust with a French "cockpit crew".
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Old 08-29-2015, 11:45 AM   #27
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As i said, human pilots will howl with outrage.. But it's coming. The industry is betting its future on it. Threr is stuff in the development stages that would make your head spin.
I am not howling with outrage. I am just saying that until they have computers that can think for themselves, instead of a series of if/then statements, then it isn't gonna happen. Unless of course you are talking about having humans operate as pilots from the ground. I did read an article that was quite interesting regarding this. The main theme of the article was that it would be safer due to the immediate support you would have on hand on the ground. I did not necessarily agree, but it was well written and made some good points.

FF, sadly there is some truth to that. I am not a big fan of Airbus. I am also not a big fan of the European model of bringing pilots up the ranks. I have more flight time than all 3 pilots on Air France 447 combined. I am not sure that makes a difference...but it probably does. The Captain had as much flight time as I did when I got hired at Continental 18 years ago. Anyway....again, not really making any conclusions, but it is "interesting" the way they do things over there. I honestly don't think GermanWings would have happened either. That guy had 600 hours. Pilots come into cockpits in this country have mostly been fully vetted...although unofficially. Just my opinion and theory.
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Old 08-29-2015, 01:36 PM   #28
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That's the point, John. The computers are getting there. We've done videos of systems that are doing exactly what you describe- think for themselves based on what they've been taught and the information they are receiving. In other words, they are doing exactly what the human brain does. And in this case, they are doing it to control an airplane. It is simply amazing to watch.

That said, this technology has a long way to go before it is ready to be trusted with a planeload of passengers. So no worries about stepping on board a jetliner with no human pilots yet.

My point is, it's coming. The industry is putting more and more effort into making this work. It's no different than the naysayers who predicted that flight itself would never work. In the context of their time they had plausible reasons for their position. But some people persisted and eventually what was said to be impossible became commomnplace.

So it is with automated flight. It will eventually become commonplace. To be in a room with the folks who are working on this is enlightening. They encounter problem after problem. Many of them could be construed as reasons why this idea will never work. But unlike the "old guard" who says, see, we told you this is not workable, they are determined that it will be. And one by one, the problems are being overcome.

There are two primary motivations behind all this. The first one is financial, of course. The more people can be removed from a process-- any process be it building a plane or flying one--- the better the business model for the entire industry becomes. This is as true for the aerspace industry as it is for the automotive industry.

The second reason is safety. This sounds like a massive contradiction, but the reality is that the vast majority of aviation accidents are caused by people. Either people making mistakes that cause the accident, or people reacting incorrectly to technical problems with the machine which then sets up a situation that results in an accident.

So if you look at that totally objectively what's the solution? Get rid of the people.

FF rails about "Airbust" and their flight management philosophy. Today, knowing what I know about the air transportation industry worldwide, I have no qualms about getting on an Airbus or a Boeing. In terms of the airplane itself, assuming proper maintenance, it's six of one, half dozen of the other.

What I worry about are the folks up front, the ones flying the plane. And there are some parts of the world, and some airlines and some cultures, where I prefer to be on an Airbus rather than a Boeing.

Why? Because Airbus' flight management philosophy assumes a less than competent aircrew than Boeing's. It is designed to not let a crew make a mistake that could cause an accident.

I used to be very much against this. But today, with the exploding demand for air transportation, particularly in Asia, Southeast Asia, India, South Anerica, and Africa, and a demand for pilots that far outstrips the supply, the chance of getting on a plane with an inexperienced crew is growing in leaps and bounds. So the Boeing philosophy of letting the crew do whatever they want with the airplane is not necessarily what you want.

It IS what you want if your plane is being piloted by John Baker. But there are fewer and fewer John Bakers out there, particularly in the developing regions of the world. What I want there is a plane that will ignore the incompetece of the crew and not let them do dumb things when situations develop that are beyond their experience level.

Have there been accidents that would not have happened had the plane been a Boeing, assuming a competent crew? Absolutely. But there have also been accidents that would not have happened if the plane had been an Airbus.

So what's the common variable between the two philosophies? People. Get rid of the people and you eliminate a huge variable in aviation safety. Fortunately, from what I am seeing from inside the industry, this is exactly what the folks entering the industry see as the future.

Don't forget, these are the people who have grown up with technology and automation as a basic element of every facet of their lives. When you talk with them about fully automated airline flight they don't tell you all the reasons it won't work or why it's dangerous. They tell you all the reasons why it's the only way to go and why on earth would anyone do anything else?

And these people are the future of Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, as well as every airline and air traffic control organization on the planet.
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Old 08-29-2015, 03:13 PM   #29
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With too many commercials going down due to suicide by pilot, it would seem all of Boeing's hard work is not being matched by the airline industry to deal with fruit cakes in the cockpit.

It is a new world, are the carriers up to dealing with it?
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Old 08-30-2015, 01:58 AM   #30
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So Marin, if you can't have John Baker piloting your airplane, you're willing to accept less???....maybe safer than some crews but not as safe as the John Bakers of the world?? Not following you. I want THE SAFEST!!! And I'm not sure your argument is sound. But thanks for the compliment b
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Old 08-30-2015, 07:12 AM   #31
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"Why? Because Airbus' flight management philosophy assumes a less than competent aircrew than Boeing's. It is designed to not let a crew make a mistake that could cause an accident."

It will be quite a while before the public accepts an autopilot that locks the crew out of the cockpit for the safety of the flight.

Had this been done on AF 447 , they would still be alive.

Two crashes of Air Bust aircraft at air shows of were with the companies own TEST PILOTS!

Not the son of the Minister of Fire Wood , from some 3rd world country .

The crash cause was the helpful "you shouldn't do that !"auto pilot.
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Old 08-30-2015, 07:45 PM   #32
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... and why on earth would anyone do anything else?
United flight 232 for one, US Airways Flight 1549 for another, Air Canada Flight 143 for yet another, Aloha 243, and Air Transat Flight 236, and the Baghdad DHL Airbus for a couple more excellent examples of what human pilots can do ... who knows how many never made the news.
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Old 08-31-2015, 04:14 AM   #33
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And the American 757 that slammed into a ridgetop in Chile because after the pilots has aleady screwed up by overshooting a waypoint didn't pay attention to the direction the plane turned when they commanded the autopilot to turn back to the waypoint and it turned into the mountains. When the ridgetop loomed up in front of them they put in full power and hauled back on the yoke in a desparate attempt to clear it. But they neglected to deploy the flaps and slats and the plane stalled into the ridge. An Airbus would have deployed the flaps and slats automatically when they went to full power and pulled the plane to that degree of nose-up pitch which would have prevented the stall and the plane most likely would have cleared the ridge.

Or the Asiana 777 which slammed into the rip rap in front of the runway at SFO the other year. While a flight crew mistake set the plane up to crash even before they started their descent, followed by failing to acknowledge the autothrottle warning the flight management system was giving them, an Airbus would not have let the plane get into the too slow, power too low situation despite the crew's inability to recognize the situation and the cultural stigma that prevented the one person on the flight deck who did realize what was happening from saying so. While the 777 did exactly what it was supposed to do it could not on its own defeat what the flight crew was causing to happen. An Airbus would have.

There are examples supporting both Boeing's flight management philosophy and Airbus' philosophy. The common fault, however, is most often people. Eliminate the people and you eliminate the most common cause.
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Old 08-31-2015, 04:56 AM   #34
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So Marin, if you can't have John Baker piloting your airplane, you're willing to accept less???....maybe safer than some crews but not as safe as the John Bakers of the world?? Not following you. I want THE SAFEST!!!
There are a lot of regions of the world, specific countries and specific airlines, some of them fairly major operators, where if you fly on them today, you are automatically accepting less because they do not have aircrews of John Bakers. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Some of these carriers we will flat out not fly on despite their having very young fleets of Boeing or Airbus aircraft. When we look at the rankings of equipment maintenance, flight crew training, and flight crew competence it becomes very obvious that there is a huge disparity between airlines.

So it becomes a matter of do you want or need or have to go where you have no choice but to fly on one of these less than ideal carriers or do you choose to stay home or refuse to go? Not everybody on the planet has or feels they have those options.

What I am saying is that eventually, and eventually is approaching at an accellerating rate, fully automated commercial air transportation will BE the safest and it will also be the universal norm. Nobody is saying it's going to happen tomorrow. But-- like fully automatd self-driving vehicles-- it is the direction the industry is going, it is the goal, and by the time it is fully proven it will also be accepted by the traveling public

By the time it's the norm, I suspect all of us who have been having this discussion on this forum will be dead. However I fully expect that some of us, at least, will live to see the proving process well underway.

The development process is already well underway, much more so, in fact, than I would have expected.
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Old 08-31-2015, 05:10 AM   #35
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"

Two crashes of Air Bust aircraft at air shows of were with the companies own TEST PILOTS!

Not the son of the Minister of Fire Wood , from some 3rd world country .

The crash cause was the helpful "you shouldn't do that !"auto pilot.
First, that's ancient news and the flight management systems are far more advanced today, and second, in the case of the plane that went into the trees the pilot had defeated some of the plane's auto capabilities in order to fly the airshow maneuver. He screwed up and the plane couldn't save him.
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Old 08-31-2015, 11:55 AM   #36
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I will agree with your post #33. And for future reference, it was in Cali Colombia where that American 757. It was their not retracted their speedbrakes that led to their demise...no the lack of deployment of flaps. But you are correct. An Airbus would have had the speedbrakes automatically stow if the power is advanced past a certain point. The later 757's have an EICAS message if the speed brakes are still deployed when the thrust levers are advanced past a certain point. Our call in a Ground Proximity Alert recovery maneuver is "Max Power, Stow Speed Brakes". Anyway, why Boeing does not have that feature is beyond me.

And Rick makes good points ref human intervention. It is hard to believe a computer could have handled those situations. Maybe after all of the contigencies are exhausted and the computer cannot find a solution, the last line of code will read "Deploy Parachute"!!!
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Old 08-31-2015, 12:07 PM   #37
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I
And Rick makes good points ref human intervention. It is hard to believe a computer could have handled those situations.
Today's computer systems can't. Tomorrow's (figuratively speaking) will.

People today try to imagine today's planes being "made" to be fully automated. That's not going to be what happens. Automated passenger planes will be as different in their systems designs from today's planes as the computerized systems that will fly them will be different from today's computer systems.
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Old 08-31-2015, 02:43 PM   #38
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Today's computer systems can't. Tomorrow's (figuratively speaking) will.
When transport aircraft are fully automated, 100 percent of accidents will be attributed to mechanical or electronic failures and people will demand humans return to the cockpit.

It is important not to fall victim to statistical manipulations. As the number of air transport accidents drops to amazingly low numbers, the percentage of those accidents attributable to human error rises proportionally.

If only two accidents occur out of 10 million flights and one of those is attributed to human error and that is not necessarily even "pilot error" (that famous old catch-all firewall between line swine and boardroom) then the accident rate blamed on people is 50 percent. The thousands of other operational and technical conditions that contribute to the accident get a free pass and the pundits will not know whether to scream to get people out of the front seats because the human error rate went up or put them back because computer failures caused half the accidents.

Neither Boeing or Airbus want to talk about pilot fatigue, broken sleep cycles, the psychological toll of knowing your career might be finished at the end of every 6 month period or that keeping your seniority might prevent you from getting a job while your employer crawls out of bankruptcy. There's always the lure of a software solution but let's not get too soft and consider too many of the reasons behind human error.
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Old 08-31-2015, 04:03 PM   #39
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The absolute ultimate goal, of course, is to get people out of every possible facet of the air transportation industry (and pretty much every other industry if you think about it).

Right now, we are accomplishing this at the greatest rate in manufacturing. Like the automotive industry, the level of automation going into the aircraft manufacturing segment of the industry is truly amazing to see. For example, and this is not new, it takes one person to paint the wings of a 777 and all he or she has to do is push a button.

The level of fuselage assembly automation in the 777X will be tremendous. There is increasing research into 3D printing an entire fuselage. It's been done successfully on a small scale so the process is known to work. The next step is to do it on a full-size scale. And so on.

As automation at all levels becomes increasingly commonplace, the only reason to include people anymore is simply because they want to be included. The actual need for them to be included is being reduced at an accelerating rate.

We (humans) have barely scratched the surface of automation. The assumption still being made-- because people are people and because we have not got anywhere near the state of automation that is needed yet--- is that a computer will eventually screw up. Well, there is actually no "forever" reason why an automated system has to screw up at all. We already design redundancy into the comparatively crude aircraft control systems we have today. Fifty, a hundred, etc. years from now, 777s will seem like Wright Flyers to teh air transportation industry in the sophistication and capability of the aircraft that are coming.

People apply what they know now to what they think things will be like in the future. It's human nature to do this and in fact it's all humans can do. Until they get somewhere, they don't know what will be there.

There is only one reason the Egyptians couldn't have built 787s instead of piling up rocks into pyramids. Every single principle of math, chemistry, physics, aerodynamics, you name it required to create a 787, from creating prepreg composites to building the machines necessary to mine titanium to you name it, existed then as it does today. Two plus two has always equaled four.

The only thing that prevented the Egyptians from creating a 787 instead of a bunch of pyramids is they hadn't discovered and learned all the stuff that's necessary to do it.

And, as we see every day, technology begets technology. The rate of change accelerates as time goes by. So where it took some 4,600 years to get from the pyramids to the 787, it only took a bit over a hundred to get from the Wright Flyer to the 787. So to get from the 787 to fully automated air transportation could be, what? Fifty years? We won't know until we get there. But we will get there. That is the one thing that everyone I've been around in this industry who's working on where we're going agrees on. It's just a matter of time.
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Old 08-31-2015, 04:26 PM   #40
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And everybody WILL have their own planes to fly around in....that was the belief in the 50s. And we still aren't there and we will never be there. While I am not saying you are wrong, I just don't believe we will get there. We are more likely to have a quantum shift in the way we travel(beam me up Scotty type shit) before all of that happens. While a large group of people are at the mercy of gravity, I still think we will depend on humans to solve problems. Especially humans that have their ass on the line with their customers!!!

Which brings up another somewhat rhetorical question. General/aviation. Will that be pilotless as well??? I am giggling as I write that because you're thinking in a vacuum. Now imagine a sky full of pilotless aircraft carrying MILLIONS of people per day. Pure chaos!!! Especially if Microsoft is doing the programming!!!...

And I do not believe that "computers will screw up". I just don't believe they have the infinite and variable capacity to solve problems like humans do.
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