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Posted by John Keller

Maybe it's me, but sometimes I just feel more comfortable knowing there's real intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence, standing between me and a potentially fiery death.

Yeah, I know, I'm just a nervous Nellie, but I gotta admit that a story in Network World entitled DARPA advances artificial intelligence program for air traffic control gives me pause. Don't get me wrong, I think artificial intelligence is great, but I've just seen too much of it to trust it with my life.

There, I said it. You can condemn me as a Luddite now.

But just be advised that back in the mid-'80s I used to edit a technology newsletter called Advanced Military Computing, which used to cover artificial intelligence (AI) projects at DARPA pretty closely. I remember the Autonomous Land Vehicle, as well as Pilot's Associate. Those programs yielded great technology, but -- to put it mildly -- there were a few bumps along the way.

The Autonomous Land Vehicle's machine vision system used to mistake shadows for big potholes and other obstructions. I remember a joke about a rule-based expert system designed to diagnose problems with cars. You'd tell the computer that the car was six years old and had red flecks on its body. Answer: the car has the measles.

Maybe I'm just being silly. That's 20 years ago, and artificial intelligence has had two more decades of research and development. It's gotta be a lot better, right?

According to Network World, DARPA is using the Generalized Integrated Learning Architecture (GILA) system, developed by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. GILA is intended to help the Air Force keep airspace operating safely with increasing numbers of manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and even airborne weapons.

Airborne weapons? Yikes! I'll remember that the next time I can read the tail numbers on that eastbound US Airways 727 somewhere over Kansas as I'm heading to the West Coast. I'll thank my lucky stars it was a passenger jet and not a cruise missile.

Is anyone else nervous out there?

DARPA and Lockheed Martin say the GILA system can actually learn flight controllers' tasks -- sometimes using just one example. C'mon, can't we build in some review time for that system? If I had to learn with just one example I'd never have made it out of elementary school. Reports Network World:

DARPA says the artificial intelligence software will learn by assembling knowledge from different sources-including generating knowledge by reasoning. According to a Military & Aerospace item, such software has to combine limited observations with subject expertise, general knowledge, reasoning, and by asking what-if questions.

Jeez, I WROTE that Military & Aerospace item. I didn't think they'd use it for air traffic control! I've got a what-if question: what if the computer learns the wrong stuff?

I can't help thinking of that old joke about the fully automated aircraft. There's a recording to reassure passengers that goes something like this: "Welcome to the first fully automated passenger aircraft. There is no pilot on board. Everything's taken care of by the world's most advanced and sophisticated computers. We have taken great care to ensure that nothing will ever go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ...

You'll have to excuse me now. I've got a plane to catch.

Post a Comment

Blogger Marcel said...
The man get Tired and makes Errors, the Computer not!

Ive more trust to an human controlled Computer than too an human^^
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 5:05:00 AM EST  

Blogger Ian Parker said...
Would you want a computer necessarily to "learn" the job of a human air traffic controller. Might it not be better to look at the system from scratch.

To take an example. Let us say that away from major airports we have free flight. The control system will then be engaged in predicting conflict situations and resolving them.

Also most aircraft these days fly on autopilots. Why give oral instructions? Why not have digital transmissions that can be very much shorter? They could either feed directly into an autopilot and/or produce an instruction on the screen.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 8:41:00 AM EST  

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Welcome to the lighter side of Military & Aerospace Electronics. This is where our staff recount tales of the strange, the weird, and the otherwise offbeat. We could put news here, but we have the rest of our Website for that. Enjoy our scribblings, and feel free to add your own opinions. You might also get to know us in the process. Proceed at your own risk.

John Keller for MAE
John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Courtney Howard for MAE Courtney E. Howard is senior editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. She is responsible for writing news stories and feature articles for the print publication, as well as composing daily news for the magazine's Website and assembling the weekly electronic newsletter. Her features have appeared in such high-tech trade publications as Military & Aerospace Electronics, Computer Graphics World, Electronic Publishing, Small Times, and The Audio Amateur.

John McHale for MAE John McHale is executive editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, where he has been covering the defense Industry for more than dozen years. During that time he also led PennWell's launches of magazines and shows on homeland security and a defense publication and website in Europe. Mr. McHale has served as chairman of the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and its Advisory Council since 2004. He lives in Boston with his golf clubs.