The passing of Neil Armstrong has brought back memories of the historic Moon landing in 1969. Many who are old enough will remember the awe and excitement of seeing the Apollo 11 mission on the grainy TVs of the day. I remember as a young boy that my school let the kids out early to view it and I recall peering through shop windows at the landing on the display TVs which were everywhere due to the significance of the event. Many people had the same idea – it was standing room only outside the local store.
The various articles praise President Kennedy for the original vision, and the scientists and engineers who made it happen. But, as always, it was the human astronauts who carried out the mission, and I recall reading that Armstrong actually took control of the Lunar lander to steer it to its safe resting position after realizing that the planned location was unsuitable.
This poses the question of what role humans will play in future manned missions into space. Will they just be cargo and the autonomous spaceship take them where it is programmed to go? Or will the specially trained commander of the mission and their crew do a similar yet higher tech version of Armstrong and have the final say in where they go?
A few weeks ago, I posted a comment on the issues with regard to pilots becoming flight managers rather than retaining their ultimate control of the aircraft. There is a current discussion about the ramifications of this for the skills of the pilots and their ability to recover a situation if the automation controls fail for whatever reason. It seems that there is always a problem in striking a balance between automation and human control. In many circumstances, we get it right but there is still a view that humans should be excluded from decision processes. I think a better way to go is to provide the humans in executive control the information they require to make the right decisions. Robbing them of this basic situational awareness is a typical error in automation and the ramifications can be catastrophic.
So, as always, we need to ensure that we provide the right information to the human in the loop, at the right time, and in the right format. That’s where human factorsprofessionals can help.
The ability to intervene and overide a machine plus a clear chain of command that was not in danger of being usurped provided Armstrong with autonomy to exercise his mastery. Makers of future self-driving cars take note.
I have been trying to make this very point re self-driving vehicles (unless they do not have passengers and are just driving along a set path to pick you up at the airport!). The engineers seem to think that this will solve all of the problems, but fail to realize the inherent loss of control which will result, and the various levels that a driver will need to disable before being able to respond. I think that we need to balance the advantages of automation with executive over-ride systems – the issue here is how we then enable the driver to have sufficient situational awareness to be able to recover if necessary. This also applies to pilots with ‘flight management’ roles (Flt 447 springs to mind) and others with monitoring or vigilance responsibilities.
Loved reading this thank yoou