Thursday, February 14, 2008

DARPA Looks at ATC

DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking at the application of artificial intelligence in Air Traffic Control (ATC.) Yes, it’s that DARPA. The one that invented the internet.

Several thoughts come to mind -- Al Gore and the internet, FAA management and artificial intelligence, Pie in the Sky -- but I think I’ll let them all pass. And no, you aren’t the first one to think of SkyNet from The Terminator either. Check out the comment section of the article linked above.

Moving on to more important matters, it seems as if channel 9 on United Airline’s airplanes has become a bargaining tool. For those that don’t know, channel 9 on United Airline’s flights allows the passengers to listen to the pilot and air traffic control communications.

Several thoughts about this interesting article also come to mind. Thoughts like, nobody bothered to ask the controllers what they think about their transmissions being broadcast to the passengers.

I probably had a unique take on this quote from the article.

” Many travelers says they find the rapid-fire communications and sometimes lighthearted banter with controllers far more entertaining than the normal fare of second-run movies and music collections offered on in-flight entertainment systems.”

I’m curious -- how much do you think United Airlines pays for those “second-run movies and music collections “ they play on the other channels ? Just sayin’. The FAA says it can’t afford a contract. I’m just thinking about outside sources of revenue.

There’s a flip side to that coin too.

“And some nervous fliers say they find it soothing to hear their captain's confident voice.“

I bet controllers could put some things on the air that wouldn’t make the passengers less nervous. Again, I’m just sayin’. Just making conversation.

The American Public has a well-developed sense of fair play. Marion Blakey and the Bush Administration liked to use the word “fair” a lot while their actions were anything but. They would cry poverty while squandering the taxpayer’s money on various and assorted questionable tax breaks and wars.

Controllers can think outside the box too. They can also play dirty. It doesn’t take artificial intelligence to figure out that their ability to have an impact on the National Airspace System is immense. The fact that they have chosen to “color within the lines” so far speaks to their sense of fairness and their professionalism. It would be a mistake to think that their sense of fair play and patience is limitless.

If I was a deep thinker, this is what I would think. For controllers, seeking redress from the Bush Administration is hopeless. Controllers could fight and win -- but they can’t win without a fight. The Congress is currently controlled by the Democrats but -- so far -- they have failed to act to alleviate the controller’s concerns.

It looks as if the next President will be a Democrat. There wouldn’t be much benefit in antagonizing a brand new President (think Reagan) -- especially one that might help your cause -- so if you wanted to make a statement, now would be the time. What kind of statement ? One like this:

As far as opportunities, they are virtually limitless. Or as Maverick from Top Gun said; it’s a target-rich environment. And that isn’t the half of it. With civil aviation accounting for 9 percent of the U.S. GDP, the opportunities for economic mischief aren’t limited to a tea party in Boston Harbor. Everybody and everything flies. Republicans fly to Minnesota, Democrats fly to Denver, golfers fly to Augusta, GA and the whole world (believe it or not) flies into Oshkosh, WI. Just ask the EAA.

It’s a good thing I’m not a deep thinker. Otherwise I might think myself into a world of trouble. I think everybody ought to do their job and spend their time thinking about how to do it better. For controllers, that would mean safer, more orderly and more expeditiously.

Artificial Intelligence ? Bah ! Humbug ! Somebody needs to concentrate on showing some plain-old human intelligence before this situation blows up in our faces.

Don Brown
February 14, 2008

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