All Can Be Lost

Civilization started by the touch of science and technology. Technology makes our life easy and simple by providing high-tech machines with software. Now people depend on software more than their own abilities. That makes human dependent on automation. Automation turns machinery to software by the power of labor-saving technology and it has become more powerful day by day. Its accuracy and speed of accomplishing work makes people always surprised. It seems to be a blessing for mankind. If we look to the opposite side, automation makes everything easy for us but it also makes us unknown to the knowledge of learning and knowing. Nowadays people use computer applications to solve their problems. Apparently automation is taking over the power of human skills and knowledge.

Nicholas Carr is an American writer who has written the article named “All Can Be Lost: The risk of putting our knowledge in the hands of machines.” In this article, Carr described about the impacts of using machines and automation in our everyday life. Author said in the article that “the choices we make, or fail to make, about which tasks we hand off to machines shape our lives and the place we make for ourselves in the world.”Machines change the way we generally think or do our works and make us dependent on them. Now machines are getting more powerful by integrating computer software and much harder to understand how they work. We think that computers work without making mistakes. The notion of this kind of dependence leads us to serious damage and there is no instant solution to solve this kind problem. Because we don’t know how the machines work with their complex programs. If something happens wrong or the machines stop working, we really don’t know how to fix them or how to make them work again. Most of the machines do the whole work besides we just monitor them and watch for failures. As Carr said, “Rather than opening new frontiers of thought and action, software ends up narrowing our focus.”

If we look back to the history of machines and automation, we can see a lot of failures and errors of them ending with many people’s death. Early in 2009, a Bombardier Q400 turboprop airplane was crashed and killed 49 people on board as well as one person on the ground. The plane was flying on the autopilot that means the software was flying it. After investigating the accident, the national transportation Safety Board concluded that it was happened because of the autopilot disconnection and the wrong decision of the captain. The captain was trained for all kind of flight operations but he failed to take over the control because of unknowing the functionality of the autopilot program. “Startle and confusion” took over his attention and he made the wrong decision. Few months later an Air France Airbus A330 made its way between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. The plane crashed in the ocean and all of its 228 passengers and crew members died because of the false reading of the air-speed sensors and the wrong decision of the pilot. These are the only two failures that the author talked about. There is a lot more of them and all those happened and are happening because we are replacing our abilities with technology and making ourselves more lazy and unskilled.

As the author described in the article, “psychologists have found that when we work with computers, we often fall victim to two cognitive ailments – complacency and bias – that can undercut our performance and lead to mistakes.” The first plane crash was happened because of the automation complacency. The captain thought that the autopilot will work flawlessly and handle all kind of problems. He started chatting with his co-pilot and lost his concentration of what was happening around him in that time. And the second plane crash was happened because of the automation bias. The pilot believed that the information coming from the air-speed sensors were accurate. His trust was so strong that he ignored all other sources of information including his ears and eyes. These two cognitive ailments not only affect in plane cockpits, battlefield and industry control rooms but also affect anyone working with a computer ever me or you.

From many years researchers and psychologists were trying to find some simple ways to handle the bad effects of complacency and bias. They have invented some simple ways. As Carr described “you can program software to shift control back to human operators at frequent but irregular intervals; knowing that they may need to take command at any moment keeps people engaged, promoting situational awareness and learning.” That’s how people can use their skills and prepare themselves for any kind of situation. By this simple way people can build their skills both mentally and physically higher than general. As people keep them busy doing difficult and challenging task that’s the best way to avoid any kind of cognitive ailment.

Despite all of the bad effects of machines and automation, we can use machines for our betterment by making our people work with machines and computers rather than keeping our people inactive by putting their lives inside glass cockpits. We have to make more machines with reliable and efficient human operations that people can understand easily and can be able to fix them if necessary. As author said, “while we’re wrestling with a difficult task, we may be motivated by an anticipation of the end of our labor, but it’s the work itself – the means – that makes us who we are.” Automation keeps us far from that. We better know who we are and we should know that we make machines and programs. We should not depend on machines but make machines those depend on us.


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