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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Einstein

If the president of the United States uses "complexity" in a tweet, I can't leave it alone.

I got my MIT degree in Applied Mathematics so I don't count, but I know plenty of MIT computer scientists and the one undeniable truth is that I don't want any of them flying my plane.

I also agree with the Donald that a complex environment can often lead to confusion, especially in an emergency. HCI matters.

But that's where it stops. Better technology in the plane and on the ground, combined with better procedures have all but eliminated deadly major commercial airplane crashes in the US and quite rare in the world at large. I'll call that more than a "little gain". I remember the "old and simpler" days where we had deadly airline crashes every few months. No thanks.

I've had great discussions with some of the aerospace engineering professors at Georgia Tech. The amount of effort to get the "front-of-the-plane" software right via formal methods and rigorous testings has become harder to engineer than the plane itself. The "back-of-the-plane" software that controls the video screens and WiFi gets less attention. I can live with safety over movies.

When technology makes things much safer, whether it be planes or self-driving cars, the rare accidents become far more noticeable. while we should use these opportunities to learn and make things safer, the rare accidents help us realize just how much more safer technology can make us.


  1. From what I (as a layman) understand, the new plane had oversized engines stuck in an awkward place, and this was compensated for by the software. In this sense "simpler" (redesigning the hardware to not require extra software) would have been better (albeit not cheaper).

  2. It seems that the hardware change was put in to improve fuel efficiency so "re-designing the hardware" would defeat the whole purpose.

    One thing I have no clue about is whether the software is necessary for general safety or just in order to make the plane "fly like a 737" so that pilots don't need separate certification to fly it.


    ... I don't know about you, but I don’t want Donald Trump to be my president ... :-D