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Thursday
Feb242011

Turning Life's Autopilot off 

Photo Credit: AirbusSince the 50's increasing automation in households and personal productivity is a given and a generally uncontested feature of modern civiliztion. We learned to appreciate the dishwasher, car and our personal computer. Today, aumtomation looks slightly different: Google effectively suggests a doctor when you search for a physician (what does Google know about doctor quality?), your iPad can wake you up depending on realtime sleep patterns, it will soon suggest nutrition choices based on your health. Key decisions are increasingly being outsourced to algorithms we don't know. If you take the autopilot analogy the scenario is not unlike the situation professional pilots were facing in the 90's with cockpit automation. More and more flying tasks are pre-programmed and executed by the autopilot - the pilot's remaining function is to monitor, override or disconnect the system. The commercial and safety outcomes are very positive: aviation reliability and performance increased tremendously, most importantly, flight safety is at an all time high (after an initial accident spike due to crew cooprdination issues). The system works, right? Well ... pilots will tell you of rising boredom in the cockpit, distractions, likelyhood of addictions and a general decline in job satisfaction. With a lot more personal automation to come do we want to turn the autopilot "on" and be a comfortable passenger or rather turn automation "off" and hand-fly  our own life?

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