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One of the things that I don't understand about 9/11, is the fact that two planes crashed into a very visible obstacle in very good weather, despite having sophisticated obstacle-avoidance systems to prevent such collisions. These are known as "ground proximity warning systems", and they have been designed long ago mostly by Don Bateman; they have saved many lives by preventing functioning airplanes from crashing into mountains. These systems are a perfect example of a highly successful analytic algorithm (AI) designed to save many billions of dollars.

So why didn't these systems automatically re-routed the plane when it was about to crash in the World Trade Center towers? Planes with no human pilots exist and they don't crash into buildings. Is it possible that terrorrists cut all electric circuits and back-up electric systems in the plane? Or much more likely, that you can entirely bypass automated pilot and reverse to 100% manual pilot? If that's the case, what happens when a pilot dies from heart attack when landing on manual pilot, and the co-pilot is asleep?

Of course, automated piloting is not perfect. After all, what would have happened to the plane that crashed-landed on the Hudson river in Manhattan (no one was injured) thanks to very good manual piloting, if instead it had to rely on automated pilot?

Just a question. I would love to read your point of view.

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Comment by Vincent Granville on February 7, 2012 at 7:36pm

There was a recent article in IEEE Spectrum about why automated or remote piloting is not widespread: it was blamed on heavy government regulations, pilot unions and passengers scared about boarding a plane that has no human pilot. 

But it had nothing to do with technology: with the rapid advances in processing very big data (using the cloud, Hadoop etc.), analyzing 3-D streaming videos (in true real time!) is now feasible. This definitely helps plane avoid collisions with other planes, skyscrapers, and other obstacles. Even modern cars have technology that prevents you from bumping into anything when maneuvering. There are stories about cars that have driven 10,000 miles without human driver. And driving in 2-D is notoriously more complicated than driving in 3-D, for obvious reasons.

Also, it's much easier to hijack a plane than it is to hijack flying remote control systems or to hijack an airport control tower. So by making planes fly on auto-pilot, you eliminate the biggest risk associated with terrorism.

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