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Shared Fate

By Norman Chan

Pilot error is reportedly the cause of half of all fatal aircraft accidents.

This Atlantic story makes the argument that computer-controlled flights would result in fewer fatal crashes, given that the technology is close to ready and many modern airlines already can fly themselves with preprogrammed routes. I think that pilots are still necessary to monitor flights and take control in unexpected situations, but the story references another reason that pilots are still put in control: psychology. "One factor that's often cited for keeping a pilot in charge is what's known as 'shared fate.' That's the reassurance passengers get from knowing that the human in the cockpit wants to live just as much as they do." The story seems to pose the question: would you rather trust a plane to an automated system with a near-perfect flight record or a human more prone to error but who can make judgement calls where a computer can't? But the answer is really none of the above. We'd prefer pilots to work alongside automated systems but be responsible enough not to succumb to reckless complacency.