Children of the Magenta - The Automation Paradox

Children of the Magenta?

It's an obscure expression, but quite meaningful. Used by airline industry experts, it describes pilots who have become so familiar and reliant upon automation that they are subservient to the magenta lines on their screens. When those lines aren't telling them what to do - they're lost. Pretty extreme...

The podcast highlights a recent (2009) Air France incident in which the pilots responded poorly to downgrading of the automation systems on the flight, putting the plane into a stall, and killing everyone on board.

Mode Confusion

The authors talk of an issue of 'Mode Confusion' in which the operators are unsure of to what extent they are piloting the aircraft, and as a result, make poor decisions. In this case, the pilot seems to have assumed that the auto-pilot would manage his heavy handed pitching of the plane. Instead, the plane was in a mode where 100% control was given to the pilot - causing the stall. 

Tunneling, not Flying

This podcast resonated with KODA because we have experienced a few instances where a 'Children of the Magenta' mentality exists. At least two generalized scenarios exists:
1)  "Can't work without it": Flattering in some ways, but the unwillingness of roadheader operators to undertake even modest clean-up or bulking out tasks without the assurance from the navigation system can be an impediment on projects.
2) "Nothing else matters": Sometimes operators are so accustomed to their systems telling them what to do, and assuming they are correct, that they ignore all other logical information because of an arrow or value on the screen. Similar to the Airbus example, sensor failures often reduce the ability of the system to assist with tunnel navigation. We've heard of problems when illogical ring-selections go unchallenged by common-sense, or TBM thrust cylinder positions are ignored in lieu of the pitch data, and the machine dives away from the alignment.

A (Gentle) Warning

We spend a lot of time thinking about the various levels of machine control that are possible, and look forward to the day when it is common-place. As the tunneling industry heads down the path of more and more automation KODA encourages system engineers to think about what they are doing.

It's worth remaining conscious of what risks might be exposed by this. For tunneling, safety (like flying) is a primary concern, especially when there is so much interaction between machinery and workers on these projects.

Human Centered Automation

Experts recommend that rather than using "Automation to Accommodate Incompetence" we should be designing systems which are Human Centered. This approach compels us to design systems which are 'smarter', 'a team player', and 'which are better at communicating with humans'. What can we do to improve safety, quality, productivity and reliability of tunneling systems?

KODA thinks that automated systems should be seen as an extension of our intelligence, not a replacement


I highly recommend listening to the whole article. Find it here.

Until next time, KODA