We rely on computers to fly our planes, find out cancers, design our buildings, audit our businesses. That's all well and good. But what happens when the computer fails?So begins Nicholas Carr's article on automation in November's Atlantic Monthly: The Great Forgetting.
0 1 T H E P R O B L E M O F A U T O M A T I O NCarr's illustrates his thesis primarily with pilots, who's training and practice uses automation so extensively that their expertise erodes and their reflexes dull. While automation has improved overall flight safety significantly, a new type of accident has come on the scene. These accidents occur when autopilot systems fail, and rusty pilots take the controls and then fail because they forget how to fly.
[Automation] alters the character of the entire task, including the roles, attitudes, and skills of the people taking part...Automation complacency occurs when a computer lulls us into a false sense of security...When a computer provides incorrect or insufficient data, we remain oblivious to the error.Carr describes similar challenges in medicine and accounting. Interestingly enough, although Carr mentions "automated building design" in the header, he doesn't include an example in the article.
Perhaps its because I'm closer to buildings than I am medicine or accounting, but I find fault in this. I would argue that the use of digital design and construction has increased understanding of building tectonics. I'm not the first person to make this argument; many firms have seen industry learning and acclimation expedite when entry level employees model building components and details.
In short, I don't think we automate. I don't think we go on autopilot.
But with processes like robotic building layout and concrete printers, might we be on the cusp of this?
0 2 E N G A G E M E N T A S S O L U T I O NCarr describes a modification to automation that comes from psychologists.
You can put limits on the scope of automation, making sure that people working with computers perform challenging tasks rather than merely observing.We must be purposeful, requiring human intervention (perhaps at random internals!) to maintain our chops.