Boeing and Airbus are the main competitors in passenger jets.
Boeing had 38% of the market to Airbus’s 28%.
Boeing’s 737 was up against the Airbus A320.
But in 2010, Airbus brought out the A320neo: bigger engines and 15% more fuel efficient.
Plus, because it was an upgrade, A320 pilots wouldn’t need any retraining.
So, two ways an airline could save a fortune by buying Airbus instead of Boeing.
That’s why, in 2011, Airbus sales were 1,226 against Boeing’s 150.
Boeing panicked, they needed to get bigger, better engines on their 737, and quick.
But there was a problem, the A320 had more ground clearance than the 737.
So Airbus could easily fit bigger engines under the wing, Boeing couldn’t.
But they had to find a way to make it work somehow, so they did.
They got most of the engine under the wing, but the top part was just above the wing.
This meant, when the pilot applied full power at take-off, the nose of the plane rose up.
Boeing didn’t want to mention this because it would mean retraining 737 pilots.
So Boeing fitted software that would push the nose down when it rose up too fast.
This was called the Manoeuvring Characteristic Augmentation System (MCAS).
It worked automatically, so they didn’t have to retrain pilots, just give them a short briefing on an iPad.
They launched the Boeing 737 Max and Boeing sales overtook Airbus: 914 to 478.
But all over America pilots complained of the 737’s tendency to nose down on take-off.
Boeing hoped the problem would go away as pilots adjusted.
But in 2018, a Lion Air 737 Max took off from Indonesia.
The pilot applied full power and the nose came up, the software pushed the nose down.
The pilot pulled the nose back up, the software pushed the nose down.
The pilot corrected by pulling the nose up, the software corrected by pushing it down.
12 minutes after take-off Lion Air 610 crashed killing 180 people.
Then, in 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max took off, the pilot pulled the nose up.
The software corrected by pushing the nose down, the pilot pulled the nose back up, the software pushed it back down, and so on.
The Ethiopian Airlines 737 crashed, killing 157 people.
Now it was a problem the US government couldn’t ignore.
They grounded all 737 Max airplanes.
So basically, two things led to a much larger problem and all those deaths.
1) Boeing couldn’t fit a new engine without retraining.
2) Boeing couldn’t retrain without letting Airbus win.
So they tried to solve the problem with software.
But the software wasn’t smart enough to know the difference between an airplane stalling and an airplane climbing.
So the software did what it was told to do, without thinking it pushed the nose down.
Because software doesn’t think, it just obeys pre-programmed commands.
The whole point of software is that it doesn’t use its initiative to think for itself.
Software isn’t clever, it’s just very fast, which makes it look clever.
In fact, it’s worth us remembering that software is the opposite of thinking.
Which is why we use software in robots: machines that do mindless, repetitive tasks.
Software is great, everywhere you don’t need or want thinking.
But remember, that’s the opposite of what humans should be doing.
That’s the opposite of what we’re supposed to be good at.
That’s the opposite of creativity.