Children of the Magenta (Automation Paradox, pt. 1) →

June 30, 2015 •

Last week’s 99 Percent Invisible tells the fateful journey of Air France 447. On its way to Rio De Janeiro the flight mysteriously fell off the radar. The plane’s automated systems failed, the fly-by-wire autopilot disengaged, and a critical mistake was made. The co-pilot –whose skills had atrophied from his over-reliance on automation– took the controls, pulled back on the stick sending the plane upwards into a stall, eventually leading to its demise.

From the podcast:

“We appear to be locked into a cycle in which automation begets the erosion of skills or the lack of skills in the first place and this then begets more automation.”

Over-reliance on automation created an “erosion of skills”. Wow, what a terrifying phrase.

Typically, I’m an advocate for tools, frameworks, and automation; and I have a morbid curiosity about automation and the decline of web design. Recently, however, I tried to code an XHR without my trusty $.ajax and lost the better part of a day. Tools and frameworks like Gulp, Sass, Rails, Jekyll, Ionic, and Angular have improved my day-to-day development life quite a bit, but perhaps I’ve strayed too far from the metal. It’s tough to tell.

From a video lecture about Children of Magenta, American Airlines captain Warren Van Der Burgh has a delightful philosophy on how we should approach automation:

“You have to pick the appropriate level of automation for the task at hand.”

The advice Captain Van Der Bergh gives pilots frequently asking themselves “What’s the computer doing now?”, is to turn off your automation and fly the plane yourself to maintain your skills. How Skywalkerian.

For me, this has many parallels to web development and my life in general. All our technology, robots, and gadgets have improved our lives considerably. But sometimes we need to put them down and focus on the task/experience at hand, learn, and do things the long, hard, stupid way.