Wiener’s Laws of Aircraft Automation

Earl Wiener was a former military pilot who became professor of management science and industrial engineering at the University of Miami and conducted a lot of studies on how automation in the cockpit affects the pilots.

At some point, he put together a pithy list of things about automation and going more to fly-by-wire systems. These are known as Wiener’s Laws:

(Note: Nos. 1-16 intentionally left blank)

17. Every device creates its own opportunity for human error.

18. Exotic devices create exotic problems.

19. Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors.

20. Complacency? Don’t worry about it.

21. In aviation, there is no problem so great or so complex that it cannot be blamed on the pilot.

22. There is no simple solution out there waiting to be discovered, so don’t waste your time searching for it.

23. Invention is the mother of necessity.

24. If at first you don’t succeed… try a new system or a different approach.

25. Some problems have no solution. If you encounter one of these, you can always convene a committee to revise some checklist.

26. In God we trust. Everything else must be brought into your scan.

27. It takes an airplane to bring out the worst in a pilot.

28. Any pilot who can be replaced by a computer should be.

29. Whenever you solve a problem you usually create one. You can only hope that the one you created is less critical than the one you eliminated.

30. You can never be too rich or too thin (Duchess of Windsor) or too careful what you put into a digital flight guidance system (Wiener).

31. Today’s nifty, voluntary system is tomorrow’s F.A.R. [Federal Aviation Regulation]

Because it’s got the word automation right in it, you’re probably looking at it in terms of test automation, but computer software itself is an automation of other processes, so the lessons therein apply more broadly.

You can read more about Wiener in this Aviation Week archive, and I’ll daresay we can learn a lot.

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