Earlier this month I attended the annual Aerospace Industries Association of Canada’s (AIAC) 2018 Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa. This event brings together Aerospace and Defence (A&D) leaders from across the globe to talk about the opportunities and challenges faced in Canada and abroad. Having worked in and around this industry for a couple of decades, it’s always great to catch up with colleagues. It’s also a great reminder that Aerospace is a complex business with many stakeholders and zero tolerance for failure. Millions of people across every corner of the planet put their lives in the capable hands of the men and women working in this industry without giving it a second thought.
There is no doubt that the A&D industry has been a leader in innovation, business models, and ethics for decades. So much so that many of us don’t actually think about the problems they tackle every day. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous Vehicles (AV), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Cybersecurity society as a whole is facing several “new” and complex questions and issues. But as we look closer, there is a striking parallel between these issues and those that the A&D industry has been quietly tackling for years (outlined below).
- Autonomous Vehicles. How do you risk people’s lives every day, thousands of feet in the air in a small metal tube to get them from one place to another? Or framed another way, how do you trust an AV to make the right decisions when transporting people from point A to point B?
- Artificial Intelligence. How do you decide acceptable collateral damage of a job or mission when that damage is measured in human lives? In regards to AI, how can we ensure machines and robots are developed ethically, and minimize bias and discrimination?
- Internet of Things. How do you develop technology to save the world without having those same tools be used to end it?
- Cybersecurity. How do you develop IT systems and onboard sensors that must never be hacked?
These questions are answered daily by airlines, special forces, and R&D labs across North America. The industry is by no means perfect but I can assure you there are many ethical, empathetic, and brilliant people working in it! As the 4th Industrial Revolution really begins to take hold, I think it behooves all of us to take a look at the advancements, trade-offs, and mistakes made in the A&D industry over the past century. We should learn from their experiences to better answer the emerging issues of today.