CSX expects PTC to pave way for 1-person crews; autonomous operations

OGR Webmaster posted:
Ed Mullan posted:

I'm sure that there are a few folks who were very happy that Captain "Sully" could handle his aircraft in a very unusual situation....

Ed, I'm glad you mentioned Sully. I had not thought of that wonderful example. If this had been a pilot-less "autonomous" aircraft, everyone aboard it would be dead now, along with a lot of people on the ground.

These emergency situations are the kinds of things that technology simply cannot deal with, no matter how advanced it might be. Inevitably there will be situations presented to a vehicle (truck car, train, aircraft, whatever) that the software was not written to deal with.

The biggest, most perplexing problem presented to any software engineer is that of "error checking." What happens when things don't go as they should? Error checking within a software program has to anticipate EVERY POSSIBLE ERROR that could occur and have a routine written to deal with it.

Anticipating EVERY POSSIBLE ERROR in ANY software program is absolutely impossible. This is the "dirty little secret" that the technology proponents don't want to talk about.

I test software for a living, been doing it a long time, and that is true (there is famous theorem called the completeness theorem that says that there are things a program cannot do).   Bugs are a fact of life in software, and nothing is foolproof....but that also includes human beings, too. From everything I have been told about Captain Sully (or the pilot whose name I forgot who in the late 80's made an incredible landing I believe in Iowa, with a crippled plane, steering it with the engines alone), what they did was both incredible, and also something that may not have been handled by most other pilots..so let's say instead of Sully or the other pilot, you had one of the pilots who today fly the feeder airlines,whose training is nothing like Sully or the other ex military pilots..chances are if they were flying it, they would crash. I will add that Sully, and likely in the other example, they were relying on control systems that are heavily computerized/fly by wire) and they worked, too. For all the heroics of captain sully, how many things do we have like the Indonesia Airliner, or the pilots who commit suicide by driving the plane full of people into the ground, or who fly drunk, or who screw up like the KAL flight into SF? Not knocking pilots, but what I am saying is that human pilots are not perfect, far from it,  nor is every pilot going to pull off that once in a thousand  miracle like Sully did or the other guy I mentioned. Yeah, I have heard people sneer about their pc locking up or people on here saying "They can't even make a legacy engine that works right all the time", but that misses the point, that is comparing apples and oranges, they are built for very different things to different standards

Rich's post would be correct if we were talking straightforward programming, the kind of stuff you see in routine applications, like legacy command control,tv control, your microwave oven, smart phones, that kind of software would be very difficult to create something that could handle extraordinary circumstances, when Sully did what he did he wasn't relying on a rule book (I doubt very much there is one) or a checklist, he relied on many years of experience, he relied too on intuition and inference as well. Ordinary flying can be done by such a rule based system pretty easily, they have automated landing and takeoff systems, for example, that outside of extraordinary circumstances (something like Sully faced is probably something that happens a tiny fraction of the time, prob 99.98%  of flights are going to be routine or have issues anyone could handle) can today land and takeoff a plane, and likely would make for more efficient operations, but there were all kinds of issues around using them, some were still technical hurdles having to do with the ATC system being ancient at the time, others were resistance from the industry and pilot association. 

The thing is, that kind of programming, the kind of routine, even rule based system, programming is not what would likely be up there. One of the things that has made tremendous improvements is machine based learning, where literally systems learn as they go, they do what human beings do (in different ways), as they gain "more experience" the system becomes better and better. This  isn't science fiction, there are systems out there already using this kind of technology, systems that instead of programmers going in and rewriting routines, the systems can create their own rules based on what they come across as they go. This code isn't foolproof, and any such system would need a lot of testing and burn in time before they ever were allowed to 'replace' pilots. The thing about that kind of system is they can also 'learn' from the experience of other systems, over time as more and more data comes through from all the flights happening with these systems, the systems on board an aircraft 'learn', the way pilots today learn from talking to other pilots. So instead of a programmer guessing at situations, like "hmm, plane loses all 4 engines at 1000 feet over NYC, okay, turn the plane X degrees, set flaps to why", you could have a system that "knows" from the data ('experiences' ) of other systems, what to do/try, and to adjust if it isn't working, that is the big difference.

For the record, I don't think such systems are there yet, but in the not too near future they will be. My guess based on what I know about machine learning is initially, planes will have data recorders pulling in all kinds of data, that is used in training flight systems, helping them "learn", once they get to a certain point, have passed all kinds of simulator testing, etc, they will be onboard the aircraft, operational but not in control, and burn in further, even learning from what human pilots do...and eventually will go into trial use, perhaps with cargo planes with pilots on board acting as backup. I don't think it is going to replace pilots anytime soon, but for example, the military is actively developing pilotless planes, either controlled remotely like they do drones, or even flying themselves and operating in combat,for obvious reasons (losing a plane is a lot better than losing a pilot, if remotely controlled), plus a remotely controlled aircraft doesn't have to worry about a pilot in a dogfight getting hurt by high G forces. 

Like I wrote in another post, this has real world implications no one is really addressing, I think those who promote technology and automation and claim it is no big deal, that plenty of 'new jobs' will be created, aren't addressing the point, nor are those who scoff at what technology can do and claiming you can't replace a human being, the one thing history has shown is that both aren't true. It is true that the first phase of technology helped created more jobs, and the next ones did, but what we are seeing is different, a lot of jobs are disappearing and being replaced by very few others..and to me no one is facing this reality from any end of things.....

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

That poor ole engineer who snaps a knuckle on Sand Patch is gonna have one heck of a job, isn't he. Oh well, the car shops in Cumberland can send someone out. Might only take a few hours or so. Providing there is not  a foot or two of snow on the ground.

Getting back to Rich's point, hard to write a program for the unknown, ain't it.

Ed

Landsteiner posted:

"This is the "dirty little secret" that the technology proponents don't want to talk about."

There aren't any secrets about this.  Occasionally even the best technology will fail, as you say. But airlines are a bad example in my view.  Highly trained, highly paid pilots plus extraordinary technology have made major airline disasters vanishingly rare.  We would be idiots to mess with that, except by adding additional technology and still having at least two pilots on any commercial flight. It's working.  End of story.

However, the current technology wedding cars and drivers is failing utterly and completely.  30,000 deaths per year, 100s of billions of dollars in medical expenses and property damage, not to mention incalculable suffering,  demonstrate that the current model is an abysmal failure.  Unless we can employ highly trained and disciplined drivers and high technology, as we have now on the airlines, nothing will change.  We are not going to make 100 million+ drivers competent to drive, attentive to the road, never drinking alcohol or doing drugs.  The only solution to these millions of preventable deaths over a lifetime is better technology, not better drivers.  It's one thing to have a few thousand great pilots paid $100-300,000 dollars per year.  We're not going to be able to do that for 200 million automobiles, are we? 

That raises a good point, that comparing airline pilots to people driving cars isn't a direct comparison. Besides the fact that pilots are well trained, aircraft today are heavily automated as I pointed out in a new post, even if the pilot is making the decisions, they are doing so aided by, for example, computers controlling the flight surfaces based on their input, the idea of 'stick and rudder controlled directly' isn't true with modern aircraft, things like the modern fighters, the stealth planes, and even commercial aircraft cannot be flown totally manually per se (or at least some of them), computerized systems can make rapid adjustments that human beings can't, so they 'enhance' the ability of the pilot.  I think the current model works, though you can argue that when problems happen often it is pilot error or human error of some sort, as rare as they happpen.

While thanks to the design of modern cars, between safety equipment, better structural design, things like ABS, lane detection and object detection/emergency braking applications, the actual death rates are down (30,000 dead, yes, but that is with driving miles many times more than they were 40 years ago; the death rate/100k miles is sharply reduced from the early 70's, when with less driving, 50,000 people died). One of the largest single causes of accidents and deaths is still DUI/DWI, despite all the increased penalties and such when groups like MADD forced change from lax laws, even though the overall rates have dropped.

Another reason for automation is outside really rural areas, most suburban and even exurban places, where most people live (and that trend is continuing on, by the end of this century some estimates are that only 5% of the people will live in rural areas) are saturated with traffic, and the current thing of building more roads and expanding existing ones doesn't keep up, peoples commuting times, especially where they drive to work, have increased tremendously since the 1970's, and one of the reasons is that highways cannot handle anywhere near their theoretical capability, because of the way people drive. Ever drive down the highway where someone in in the left lane at 30mph, or worse, a group of cars side by side are driving the same (slow) speed, or the person hunched over the steering wheel, afraid and constantly braking...and what about the large increase of us getting older, autonomous cars can mean older drivers keeping their mobility while also to be honest, without the issues that come along as people age, loss of reflexes, eyesight, etc?  Autonomous cars can help more than a few issues on the road, if they get the technology right. Sure, people point to where autonomous cars have caused accidents or even fatalities, but these are still prototypes (uber and the rest are jumping the gun, to say the least), but guess what, how many people died in the early days of airplane flight, both in the wright brothers era, and even early in commercial aviation? How many people died perfecting the automobile, or for that matter, the steam engine on railroads?  I am not saying driverless cars are ready to take over, or should, same with planes (or trains..hey, planes, trains and automobiles, should make a movie called that), just saying that new technology always has problems, has risks, and as time goes on the risks fall off as the rewards come into play, and eventually is adopted (or fails, too). 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

OGR Webmaster posted:
Ed Mullan posted:

I'm sure that there are a few folks who were very happy that Captain "Sully" could handle his aircraft in a very unusual situation....

Ed, I'm glad you mentioned Sully. I had not thought of that wonderful example. If this had been a pilot-less "autonomous" aircraft, everyone aboard it would be dead now, along with a lot of people on the ground.

These emergency situations are the kinds of things that technology simply cannot deal with, no matter how advanced it might be. Inevitably there will be situations presented to a vehicle (truck car, train, aircraft, whatever) that the software was not written to deal with.

The biggest, most perplexing problem presented to any software engineer is that of "error checking." What happens when things don't go as they should? Error checking within a software program has to anticipate EVERY POSSIBLE ERROR that could occur and have a routine written to deal with it.

Anticipating EVERY POSSIBLE ERROR in ANY software program is absolutely impossible. This is the "dirty little secret" that the technology proponents don't want to talk about.

Rich I can not help but think this is a bad move.Trains are to big to do this with.This is a very bad gamble.There to many things that could go wrong.I say this because csx runs through my home town.And I also agree with you about this.

One key point here is that none of these systems will ever be secure enough to be fully safe. This means that if a hacker decides to hack your car they can. Although it may take the hacker a while to do that it is still possible. Once the hacker does get control you are at their mercy, they can choose to crash your car and injure you or your family members. What is worse is that once companies feel like Machine Learning has learned enough there will be no override for a driver to use. At that point, I just can not trust a vehicle that I am not capable of controlling in case of an emergency.

Still way too many factors and variables to consider on talking autonomous trains yet.

The article from the CSX CFO also stated he mentions his age of 50,and he fills that by the end if his career he might see autonomous trains.

Maybe he retires next year or 10 years from now,but from what I've already seen it will take 10+ years to just iron out PTC.

Still way to many problems with it.

Collin "The Eastern Kentucky & Ohio R.R."

I am also in IT and there are two things no one is seriously talking about, net job loss as you mention and technilogical terroism. All of this automation relies on networking, and all of it is suceptible to hacking. World War 3 is going on now over the internet, everything that uses the internet is hackable and will be hacked at some time. Everything from your Apple watch to your home hvac controls to the computer in your car are targets and have been hacked by the bad guys. 

Imagine some state sponsored terroist hacking into the control system of trains loaded with toxic chemicals or passenger trains on the NEC. Finding the hackers is next to impossible, if we can't figure out who did it, we can't go after anyone. 

The future is exciting and scary, I hope we are able to figure out how to secure all of this automation before we start replacing humans.

Mike

Computer glitches have been occurring. 

Outside interference will most certainly be attempted. 

Nobody leaves anything alone.

And yes,job losses will occur in some way from or fashion its surely expexted.

And with most large industries going more and more automated, where are the good jobs gonna be ?

Sorta defeating the purpose of making and having good jobs for people to be a buying consumer base market.

If you dont have jobs with good or above average pay ,how can you expect people to buy higher end products ?

Collin "The Eastern Kentucky & Ohio R.R."

mackb4 posted:

Computer glitches have been occurring. 

Outside interference will most certainly be attempted. 

Nobody leaves anything alone.

And yes,job losses will occur in some way from or fashion its surely expexted.

And with most large industries going more and more automated, where are the good jobs gonna be ?

Sorta defeating the purpose of making and having good jobs for people to be a buying consumer base market.

If you dont have jobs with good or above average pay ,how can you expect people to buy higher end products ?

All very true, though if a system is designed well you can make it pretty resilient against bugs and such. Hacking could be a problem as well, depending on how they design the system it could be vulnerable to hacking, one of the biggest weaknesses often is employees doing something stupid, like clicking a link and unleashing a virus, and in a lot of companies computer security is something of a joke (for example, in this day and age, a lot of financial firms have account numbers, ss #'s and the like, stored in human readable form, or when transmitted it is sent unencrypted), and far too many  beancounters think it is a waste of money (not all companies are so stupid, but the credit card companies are notoriously bad, as are many banks, where I work we have a very vigilent computer security operation and all our systems are routinely tested for threats of all kinds, db weaknesses, through internet access, data in human readable form, you name it). 

As far as the jobs and what happens, that is a good question, all I will say is those who have blind faith that good paying jobs will be created to replace those lost are more than likely to be on the wrong end of that, and leave it at that, one thing history has shown is that a lot of companies don't understand how supply and demand work versus wages (for fun reading, look up what industrialists thought of Ford raising wages to 5 bucks a day in the 1920's). 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

bigkid posted:
mackb4 posted:

Computer glitches have been occurring. 

Outside interference will most certainly be attempted. 

Nobody leaves anything alone.

And yes,job losses will occur in some way from or fashion its surely expexted.

And with most large industries going more and more automated, where are the good jobs gonna be ?

Sorta defeating the purpose of making and having good jobs for people to be a buying consumer base market.

If you dont have jobs with good or above average pay ,how can you expect people to buy higher end products ?

All very true, though if a system is designed well you can make it pretty resilient against bugs and such. Hacking could be a problem as well, depending on how they design the system it could be vulnerable to hacking, one of the biggest weaknesses often is employees doing something stupid, like clicking a link and unleashing a virus, and in a lot of companies computer security is something of a joke (for example, in this day and age, a lot of financial firms have account numbers, ss #'s and the like, stored in human readable form, or when transmitted it is sent unencrypted), and far too many  beancounters think it is a waste of money (not all companies are so stupid, but the credit card companies are notoriously bad, as are many banks, where I work we have a very vigilent computer security operation and all our systems are routinely tested for threats of all kinds, db weaknesses, through internet access, data in human readable form, you name it). 

As far as the jobs and what happens, that is a good question, all I will say is those who have blind faith that good paying jobs will be created to replace those lost are more than likely to be on the wrong end of that, and leave it at that, one thing history has shown is that a lot of companies don't understand how supply and demand work versus wages (for fun reading, look up what industrialists thought of Ford raising wages to 5 bucks a day in the 1920's). 

Bigkid,

There is no such thing as secure software, even systems off line can be hacked. The general public only knows a very small percentage of the companies that have been hacked. We have found the Chinese in our water supply systems, and I am sure we are in theirs. 

The more we rely on systems that use the internet (99% of the worlds largest companies), the greater the risk for catastrophic terrorism. We live in scary times.

Getting back on topic, assuming the railroads are aware of the risks having an engineer put the train into an autopilot mode with the ability to turn it off and use manual controls will probably work. 

Regarding jobs of the future, there will be a lot of jobs available for people that can design, build, and run these systems as well as IT security. The skilled trades are in critical need of help and the demand will only grow as the baby boomers retire. We are going through a revolution as dramatic as the industrial revolution was if not more so. Hopefully all of us can roll with it and survive.

Mike

Nothing is totally secure if it is network connected and nothing is fool proof either, but with computer security the real problem is that most companies are way, way behind the curve with it. A generation ago, a lot of hacking was based in 'social engineering' so to speak, things like dumpster diving where people had thrown things like paper with account numbers and passwords on it. The problem is companies don't see security as a major liability because they don't have to pay for it, and that is a problem. Equifax got hacked, one of the three companies that basically control access to credit, and what was their response? Free credit monitoring, not much of a penalty. The heads of the company weren't canned, they weren't fined, and there are no government standards regarding computer security at all, no minimum standards, no requirements that security risks (as other risks) be reported in accounting documents, nothing..and because of that, many business leaders, even those with huge risk, don't think of it. Car companies introduced bluetooth connectivity that allowed remote diagnostics of their cars, that could be used to hack it and they had basically no security on it. The other problem is a lot of systems are legacy systems, there are still a lot of applications out there that were written well before the internet became as big as it is, and a lot of times no one thinks of it. And of course companies hate to spend money on something they think of as non revenue producing and assume somehow that systems miraculously are safe. Doesn't surprise me things like the water supply, power grid and other infrastructure can be hacked, despite being critical systems they also tend to be run on a shoestring basis in many cases, think about when a lightening strike or a power plant shutting down can cause a surge that blows the power out in multiple states, the infrastructure is often old and outdated, including the computer systems, and the security is often 1980 levels at best (user id and password), basically with computer security like a lot of infrastructure out there, we are severely behind on addressing these risks. 

It is a real concern, but the answer would be if someone wants to have self driving trains, that despite the distaste for regulation, there needs to be real standards around security and the like with penalties for non compliance. There are more regulations in the FRA that govern rebuilding steam engines I would bet, then govern computer security in things like the systems railroads now use in dispatching trains or ctc control systems, and they could be hacked and cause severe incidents.

For either security or for software resilience/system resilience, the standard should be that it can be no worse than errors caused by human frailty, if you are going to make the case for driverless trains, it cannot be worse than human controlled ones, and has to have safeguards to bring it down to whatever standard there is for such things, but the key is that if this is seriously planned, there be standards for security for the control network and for reliability that for example the military uses, not what some CIO or whatnot decides. 

With jobs being created, the problem is that with computer technology the number of jobs created doing programming and network analysis and so forth, are a tiny fraction of the jobs displaced, and also are jobs requiring higher level skills that it would be very difficult to retrain people for, and the trend is even highly skilled positions are likely to fall to AI. I don't have any specific answers, but I don't think that the people displaced from all these kind of relatively routine jobs are going to end up being employed on the infrastructure side of the jobs displaced. 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

For a discussion about PTC and where it may lead this thread sure has gone off deep into the weeds.  Seems to be more of an argument between a couple in favor of computers running the world and control freaks who aren't willing to give up.  Pretty sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Most of the time now, reading this thread, my eyes glaze over after about 3 words and I just skip it.

Just my $.02.

It took everything I had not to respond to that last post.

Byrdie posted:

For a discussion about PTC and where it may lead this thread sure has gone off deep into the weeds.  Seems to be more of an argument between a couple in favor of computers running the world and control freaks who aren't willing to give up.  Pretty sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Most of the time now, reading this thread, my eyes glaze over after about 3 words and I just skip it.

Just my $.02.

Byrdie,

I understand your point, trust me we did not get into the weeds nor were we computer and/or control freaks.

The problem is we live in a world where you can no longer read 3 words and skip it, to do so puts you or what you are trying to do at significant risk. Even the average person like you and I are not doing all we should regarding personal IT security.

There is no easy or inexpensive solution, I am not claiming to have a solution either. Hopefully the people developing these systems are aware of the risks and doing all they can to prevent something bad from happening. I have seen the results of a company being hacked, it’s not good.

Mike

I get the concern about hackers, but they haven't brought down an airliner yet, or screwed up a surgery, both devices or scenarios that are (a) highly computer dependent,  and (b) high profile if some bad person is looking to call attention to themself by destructive acts.  So I guess I'm thinking that predicting disasters from autonomous trains and automobiles based upon people's social security numbers being hacked seems a bit of a reach.  

I've worked professionally with computers since 1976. I've programmed data acquisition and control systems for projects I still can't talk about. I've been a lone voice in the wind with my employer about what a REAL cyber attack would look like and ended up being the "smartest guy in the room" at a cyber-terrorism training class (which my boss was attending with me). Bottom line is I trust computers as far as I can throw an SD70ACe and won't even use them to run my model trains. The human element (adaptability, gut feel, "seat of the pants", and adapting on the fly) is something a computer can't replace.

Matt Jackson
"The best service you can provide for the hobby is to pass on what you have learned."

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One thing I can tell you about the publicized cases of hacking, they often are the result of a combination of legacy systems that have not been audited for security and just plain sloppiness with security standards (I am going to leave out where people's own pc's are compromised). We hear about power control systems, water systems being hacked, for example, but many of these are ancient systems built well before the age of the internet, and they lack basic controls that can help stop getting cracked (some of them are ancient enough, that they might not even have the source code for the system, talk to people who did Y2K related work). The other problem is human factors, with Anthem and some other cases, reputedly they gained access to the systems by phishing, targeting employees of Anthem with 'official looking' emails, that allowed them to get credentials to log into the network; not to mention that Anthem, like a lot of companies with sensitive data, don't encrypt it or otherwise make it non human readable (worse, they often have information in readable form in log files and the like, instead of obfuscating the data being passed).  Some industries haven't had the problems, for example, can anyone show me where hackers have management to get into the trading systems at financial institutions and do real damage, fake trading, compromising financial/clearing data? Outside of some denial of service attacks (which are another issue), one of the reasons is that both industry and securities industry regulation require strick adherence to data security and systems security, companies get audited on their security, and as a result the companies have very strict rules regarding security, everything from the employee desktop, to training on security for developers and the like, to constant testing of the systems.

 

The other big vulnerability, as Target found, was using a third party provider that they didn't fully vet for security, and ended up with systems with a trojan horse in the code that breached a ton of customers financial information, and again, a lot of this is because quite frankly there aren't that many regulations around these things, public company auditing standards still don't, as far as I know, require audits of computer security risk, the way they do with others.

The thing about, for example, an autonomous train control system (if it comes about), is that it will be a modern system and due to the criticality of it it is highly likely that they won't have the sloppiness you see with legacy systems, and hopefully someone like the FRA would require outside security audits of both the systems and also of the security rules and procedures of let's say CSX, and I suspect they will do it, if not for the liability. Sadly, when companies like Target or other retailers get hacked, or places like Anthem get hacked, the consequences to them don't match the pain they cause the customers, the cost of lawsuits and for example, providing credit monitoring/repair services to the victims, is small enough that they can shrug and say "it is the cost of doing business"; If on the other hand an autonomous train control system was hacked and a terrorist action ensues that kills a lot of people, there likely will be severe consequences, up to including potentially criminal prosecution of the executives of the company executives, they basically cannot claim they didn't know of the threat, not with all the issues with cyber warfare and hacking. 

I suspect with autonomous train control, or self driving trucks, that if it happens or not may be more political than technical unfeasability or risk, there already are such systems in other contexts that are not used because of political reasons or other kinds of non technical issues from what I have been told. 

 

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

I read the first two paragraphs of the article, and stopped. The fact that this idea came from CSX's head bean counter told me all I needed to know. Doubtful he's ever seen a train. It's pie in the sky nonsense. Somehow he thinks that the 2.4 billion spent on PTC can translate into ROI by cutting crew on board.

When I was getting my Airbus training the joke was that one got stuck in a holding pattern, and the pilots had to call the factory in Toulouse to get the thing out of it.

Automation really does help in a large airliner, but two well trained pilots and five expert flight attendants really aid the process.

 

Landsteiner posted:

I get the concern about hackers, but they haven't brought down an airliner yet, or screwed up a surgery, both devices or scenarios that are (a) highly computer dependent,  and (b) high profile if some bad person is looking to call attention to themself by destructive acts.  So I guess I'm thinking that predicting disasters from autonomous trains and automobiles based upon people's social security numbers being hacked seems a bit of a reach.  

Really? How about this article? it shows you the type of damage a dedicated hacker with a reason can inflict Yes, the hacker in this example did not kill anyone but it shows you how "secure" these systems are. As far as I know unless some hacker has a serious grudge he/she would not tamper with someone's surgical tools.

Not exactly an airline disaster, which was my point. It hasn’t happened yet. Meddling with airplanes, trains and automobiles will get you life in prison and in some states, the death penalty.  A long way from stealing personal information and ordering some stuff from Amazon or defrauding a bank.   Most hackers will not risk their lives to fool with this stuff is my prediction.  

Landsteiner posted:

Not exactly an airline disaster, which was my point.

True, just trying to say it can happen and flight regulations will get even stricter when it does.

It hasn’t happened yet.

How do we know it has not? (I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theory guy) What if one of those missing flights was caused by hacking?

Meddling with airplanes, trains and automobiles will get you life in prison and in some states, the death penalty.

Also true.

A long way from stealing personal information and ordering some stuff from Amazon or defrauding a bank.

Stealing information gets you in prison too, probably not a death penalty but pretty close.

Most hackers will not risk their lives to fool with this stuff is my prediction.  

You would be surprised at the amount of risk people put themselves in to harm others. Most hackers are smart enough to hide their traces so they don't get caught. So I dont think getting caught is at the top of a hacker's fear list.

That was just an example of what a hacker can do. The hacker in this example is a white-hood hacker, a hacker who hacks to help find flaws in security systems. The next hacker might not be so nice.

"Most hackers are smart enough to hide their traces so they don't get caught, so getting caught is not much of a problem for them."

Yeah, they are superhuman creatures. We are talking about hackers who are psychopaths and/or criminals.  No one else would do something to intentionally harm others.  These people will be hunted to the ends of the earth and killed if necessary, if they do terrible stuff. 

There are enough real problems and crises in the world without making up potential horrors that haven't happened yet, and may never happen.  The technology is coming to help millions of people avoid maiming or death, and it won't do to have opponents saying we shouldn't do this or that because there is some risk.  You do the best to mitigate risks with all new technologies.  No one is arguing that vigilance is absolutely essential. You then learn from the inevitable oversights and mistakes. There is always some risk.  There is no free lunch.  But saying we shouldn't save lives and make progress because of the boogeyman doesn't cut it.

Not to bust anyone's bubble but most modern commercial planes, perhaps all of them these days -- are so called "fly by wire" -- what that means is there's a flight computer doing all the heavy lifting and the pilots simply provide "inputs" to the system.  I'm not an expert but its not that far off from autonomous flight.   And many think at least for example commercial aviation would be even safer with full autonomy since the vast majority of flight accidents are from pilot error ("bad inputs").  I'm not saying I'm for or against this, just observing a trend.

(cue a real commercial pilot to tell me i'm all wrong or 'splain the details ...)

 

Somewhat analogous:

DEVONPORT, Tasmania — A remote-control shuttle train ran away from its operator Friday, traveling a dozen miles through several towns on the Australian island state before it was intentionally derailed. Two passersby were injured.

According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the train was loading cement, with the operator on the ground using a control unit, when it ran away. The TasRail train, consisting of a dozen covered cement hoppers with a locomotive pushing, accelerated to more than 30 mph. Police, alerted to the runaway, raced alongside the train with all lights flashing and sirens blaring to warn motorists and pedestrians.

TasRail was able to shunt the train into a siding and derail it, damaging several of the cement hoppers. Two people on an adjacent walking trail were struck by portions of the fence separating the trail from the active track. Both were treated and released from the hospital.

Police said the entire drama was over in less than 10 minutes.

TasRail has operated the shuttle train for 20 years without incident. The train has a locomotive on one end and a control car on the other end. The operator reportedly uses a remote unit as he observes the loading and unloading of the cars from the ground.

 

With many modern aircraft, they cannot be flown manually, with the stealth planes for example they are so aerodynamically unstable the computer system has to keep constantly changing the flight surfaces rapidly to keep it flying, this was true of the F14, and is true I believe for other fighter aircraft, and from what i recall is true of the modern generations of Jet passenger planes and the like. Basically, the pilots settings are translated by the computer systems into changes to the flight surfaces or things like the throttle, often making a lot of adjustments rapidly to keep it flying true to where the pilot wants. You could, if you could get to these systems, hack into them and cause a plane to crash, so it isn't like we don't have vulnerable systems now. One of the things to keep in mind when comparing systems that routinely get hacked to something like an autonomous train system or let's say an autonomous piloting system, like things like aircraft that depend on computer flight systems (especially military), when these systems are designed that kind of security is going to be a major part of the design, because they could be vulnerable. The systems that are hacked today are in many cases because they had security added on to them, or are systems where those running them didn't have the attitude  that security was a big deal, enough that it allowed things to slip by (for example, the Anthem hack may have been the result of employees clicking on a phishing email, which indicates the company didn't have very strict standards with mail (where i work, outside mail has links disabled, and if you want to actually try and open it, you have to cut and paste the link; not to mention they monitor email, have all kinds of training on computer security including phishing awareness, and run phishing tests with real consequences if people end up clicking on them). Other companies get hacked because things like accounts with root level permissions (in Unix) are visible, and where passwords are in non encrypted form when they hack customer accounts. When you are talking about something like a train control system, they are going to be a lot more vigilent, because the awareness is there and security is now being routinely designed into systems. 

Does that mean autonomous train control is a good thing, is getting rid of human operators smart?   It is going to come down to, like most business decisions, based on the benefit versus the risk. If such a system has a major accident, they know that it is going to bring all kinds of things down on them, from those saying "I told you about them newfangled computers that crash" to the lawyers jumping all over them, and even the thought that let's say congress might indemnify them could flop in the face of public outrage. If they feel they can create a system that is safer than human operated trains, they may well do it because of the efficiency and cost savings, it is the way decisions are made.

I have my doubts they will go to driverless trains anytime soon, at least not on mainline railroads, not because of technology but because of the backlash to it. Like driverless cars and trucks, there are a lot of issues not necessarily related to the technology that likely will delay it for a while, but the profit motive has shown with many things that as the Borg used to say on Star Trek "Resistance is futile". I am not proposing it as a panacea, nothing is, just pointing out that the 'powers of the marketplace' are a strong force, and cutting labor cost/increasing efficiency and productivity is a major goal of most companies, and automation can do that, but it certainly also has its drawbacks. The car in many ways was a major benefit over horses (I remember recalling that the NY Dept of Sanitation used to remove something like 6 million pounds of horse manure from the streets of NYC around the turn of the 20th century) but it brought issues of pollution and other kinds of issues (vehicular deaths) with it, too. 

A PTC system is a needed step in all this, an autonomous system likely would need the PTC system to keep track of other train traffic and also be able to be controlled in case something in fact went wrong (like PTC telling it that track was washed out ahead and to slow down while it was being diverted to another track or told to pull into a siding and wait). A PTC system itself could obviously be a security risk, if PTC can override a human engineer and slow the train down or stop it, it could be used to do serious things to the train, too, so the threat of hacking is already there. 

 

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

It does seem to me at least that driverless trains would make more sense than driverless cars.  well i imagine it on some "wide open" tracks.  maybe there isn't such a thing.  the truth is i know diddly about it but just imagine you have a lot less to worry about on at least some train tracks,  than sorting out the car environment.

None of this means there will not be issues.  Of course there will be.  People will die probably.  Yet will they die at a rate less than the human operated ones?  If not, it's a total failure.

I'm aware that Airbus is still sorting out their system.  They've had planes fall from the sky when the pitot tubes iced up and the flight computer got confused.  And, again only what I read, the pilot can override it but it's cumbersome.

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