Real intelligence, or artificial intelligence; you be the judge

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Maybe it's me, but sometimes I just feel more comfortable knowing there's real intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence , standing between me and a potentially fiery death.

Yeah, I know, I'm just a nervous Nellie, but I gotta admit that a story in Network World entitled DARPA advances artificial intelligence program for air traffic control gives me pause. Don't get me wrong, I think artificial intelligence is great, but I've just seen too much of it to trust it with my life.

There, I said it. You can condemn me as a Luddite now.

But just be advised that back in the mid-'80s I used to edit a technology newsletter called Advanced Military Computing , which used to cover artificial intelligence (AI) projects at DARPA pretty closely. I remember the Autonomous Land Vehicle, as well as Pilot's Associate . Those programs yielded great technology, but -- to put it mildly -- there were a few bumps along the way.

The Autonomous Land Vehicle's machine vision system used to mistake shadows for big potholes and other obstructions. I remember a joke about a rule-based expert system designed to diagnose problems with cars. You'd tell the computer that the car was six years old and had red flecks on its body. Answer: the car has the measles.

Maybe I'm just being silly. That's 20 years ago, and artificial intelligence has had two more decades of research and development . It's gotta be a lot better, right?

According to Network World, DARPA is using the Generalized Integrated Learning Architecture (GILA) system, developed by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. GILA is intended to help the Air Force keep airspace operating safely with increasing numbers of manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and even airborne weapons.

Airborne weapons? Yikes! I'll remember that the next time I can read the tail numbers on that eastbound US Airways 727 somewhere over Kansas as I'm heading to the West Coast. I'll thank my lucky stars it was a passenger jet and not a cruise missile.

Is anyone else nervous out there?

DARPA and Lockheed Martin say the GILA system can actually learn flight controllers' tasks -- sometimes using just one example. C'mon, can't we build in some review time for that system? If I had to learn with just one example I'd never have made it out of elementary school. Reports Network World :

DARPA says the artificial intelligence software will learn by assembling knowledge from different sources-including generating knowledge by reasoning. According to a Military & Aerospace item, such software has to combine limited observations with subject expertise, general knowledge, reasoning, and by asking what-if questions.

Jeez, I WROTE that Military & Aerospace item. I didn't think they'd use it for air traffic control! I've got a what-if question: what if the computer learns the wrong stuff?

I can't help thinking of that old joke about the fully automated aircraft. There's a recording to reassure passengers that goes something like this: "Welcome to the first fully automated passenger aircraft. There is no pilot on board. Everything's taken care of by the world's most advanced and sophisticated computers. We have taken great care to ensure that nothing will ever go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ...

You'll have to excuse me now. I've got a plane to catch.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

May 2015
Volume 26, Issue 5

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