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The Digital Doctor: Automation, Aviation and Medicine

Miracle Tow

 The story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger – the “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot – is a modern American legend. I’ve gotten to know Captain Sullenberger over the past several years, and he is a warm, caring, and thoughtful person who saw, in the aftermath of his feat, an opportunity to promote safety in many industries, including healthcare.

In my continuing series of interviews I conducted for my upcoming book, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Agehere are excerpts of my interview with Sully, conducted at his house in San Francisco’s East Bay, on May 12, 2014.

Bob Wachter: How did people think about automation in the early days of aviation?

Sully Sullenberger:  When automation became possible in aviation, people thought, “We can eliminate human error by automating everything.” We’ve learned that automation does not eliminate errors. Rather, it changes the nature of the errors that are made, and it makes possible new kinds of errors. The paradox of cockpit automation is that it can lower the pilot’s workload in phases of flight when the workload is already low, and it can increase the workload when the workload is already high.Continue reading…

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