Richard G. Epstein

 

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HUNDREDS HELD HOSTAGE

IN AIRPLANE HIJACKING
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Disgruntled Programmer Diverts

Boeing 9337 Pilotless Airliner
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Passengers Cry and Pray

as Deadline Nears

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Special to the Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer
by
Raymond Kennedy

In the first reported incident of its kind, a pilotless Boeing 9337 Flying Wing Airliner was hi-jacked shortly after take off from Philadelphia International Airport in Pennsylvania. The hi-jacker was one of hundreds of programmers who had developed the intricate software that controls the pilotless airplane. Nearly six hundred passengers are on board. The hi-jacker was not on board and is still being sought by police.

At 5:00 PM PDT the airplane was still circling in a holding pattern above the Atlantic Ocean about six hundred miles east of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The hi-jacker, Bruce Wentworth, declared that he programmed the airplane to ditch at 9:30 PM PDT unless his demands are met. His main demand is that he be rehired with back pay by Silicon Techchronics of Silicon Valley, developers of the airplane's sophisticated flight control software. Silicon Techchronics fired Mr. Wentworth two years ago, shortly after the delivery of the flight control software to Boeing.

Wentworth hi-jacked United Airlines flight 892 from Philadelphia to Chicago. Soon after the plane lifted off over the Delaware River it lurched to the left and passengers soon found themselves heading east towards the New Jersey coast.

"I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw the New Jersey coast passing beneath us." one passenger, Liola Simmons, a Chicago businesswoman, told this reporter in a teleview conversation from the aircraft. "That's when that nut came on over the plane's video entertainment system."

"That nut" refers to Wentworth, who had apparently planned the hi-jacking since he was fired two years ago.

Professor Wesley Silber, Professor Emeritus of Computer Technology at Silicon Valley University, told this reporter that it was not difficult to hi-jack a pilotless airplane if you know how it works, which Wentworth apparently does.

"Just before take-off the pilotless airplane receives a flight path, which is downloaded from a satellite. The flight path reflects the latest information about air traffic and weather conditions," Professor Silber explained.

Silber continued: "Apparently, Mr. Wentworth uploaded a revised flight path to the satellite. This revised flight path was then downloaded to the airplane. In order to do this one needs to know several secret codes, including the secret code that is associated with each flight. If one knows that code and if one knows the proper data format for a flight path, one can program one of these pilotless airplanes to do just about anything."

According to insiders at Silicon Techchronics, Mr. Wentworth's work at the Silicon Valley plant did involve the design and implementation of the flight path database, including the procedures that are used to upload the flight paths to a satellite and the procedures that download the flight paths to the aircraft.

"The flight paths can be modified in real time," Professor Silber added. "In other words, once a flight path has been downloaded from satellite it can be modified even in mid-flight in order to accommodate changing weather conditions and air traffic patterns. Mr. Wentworth has probably changed the flight path password [secret code] for this flight and thus only Mr. Wentworth has the power to bring the aircraft back safely at this time."

According to reports received from the unfortunate airplane, Wentworth appeared in a video over the Boeing 9337's sophisticated video entertainment system. Wentworth indicated that he would reprogram the airplane to land safely in Bermuda if he received word by 9:30 PM PDT that he has been rehired by Silicon Techchronics. He added that he chose Bermuda as the plane's destination, if his demands are met, in order to give the passengers a little fun and relaxation after their ordeal. Wentworth assured the passengers that he did not hold any personal animosity towards them and that they should view his actions in that spirit.

He ended his televised statement to the passengers with this ominous warning: "The only way that you will get back to dry land is if I get back my job."

Professor Silber told the Sentinel-Observer that entertainment and news information can also be transmitted via satellite to the airplane if one knows the appropriate technology and secret codes. Apparently Mr. Wentworth relayed his video threats to the airplane in this manner.

The pilotless Boeing 9337 had its maiden flight amid much controversy on April 1, 2026. The airplane is a delta wing flying craft that flies completely without a flight crew. The delta wing seats up to 650 passengers in a theater-like configuration in the flying wing. An enormous video screen is at the front of the delta wing.

Sophisticated software, most of it developed right here in Silicon Valley by Silicon Techchronics, controls every flight detail of this remarkable plane, from take-off to landing. There is no provision for a pilot since, according to Boeing, hiring an actual crew would defeat the purpose of having a pilotless plane, which is to save client airlines, such as United, hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll costs. Fred Bloom, CEO of Boeing, noted that health and life insurance costs for pilots alone cost United Airlines hundreds of million dollars last year.

Bloom issued this statement through his secretary: "The public is certainly aware that by 2015 100% of all fatal accidents involving commercial airliners were attributed to pilot error. Consequently, it would have been irresponsible not to have pursued the idea of eliminating pilots altogether since they are the weak link in the safety chain."

The Boeing 9337 has flown without incident since its inaugural flight from New York's Kennedy Airport to Paris over two years ago. "We expected some consumer resistance to a pilotless airplane, but that's where our advertising paid off," said United Airlines President Cindy Alvarez during a hastily arranged NewsNet teleconference. "I think we convinced the public that a pilotless airplane is much safer than a conventional airliner. I mean, a program doesn't suffer from alcoholism or depression or fatigue like some pilots."

"But, isn't it true that computer programmers do suffer from these problems?" a reporter from the New York Times asked pointedly.

Ms. Alvarez countered that the flight control software was flawless. "The weak link that this unfortunate incident has exposed has to do with the communications system that brings flight path data into the aircraft. Otherwise, the system is fail-safe insofar as we can tell."

The Boeing 9337 flight control software was developed over a period of twelve years, starting in 2014 and ending with the first test flights of the plane in 2025. This was the single largest software contract ever issued by a commercial enterprise and it literally saved Silicon Techchronics after the infamous killer robot incident of thirty years ago.

"The Boeing contract literally raised us from the dead," said Silicon Techchronics CEO Zelda Riddle-Davis in a teleview conversation with this reporter. "We took every precaution not to suffer a repeat of what happened when I was a young programmer on the killer robot project. Apparently, we didn't take into account the possibility that one of our programmers might want to hi-jack an airliner."

Ms. Riddle-Davis issued the following statement regarding Mr. Wentworth's demand that he be rehired. "Mr. Wentworth is obviously not a suitable candidate to work here at Silicon Techchronics where quality is our foremost concern."

FBI Chief Benjamin Sendall is personally conducting the negotiations with the hi-jacker. These negotiations, which are being conducted entirely in cyberspace, are said to be intense and somewhat emotional. "Ms. Riddle-Davis' remarks about Mr. Wentworth were not helpful to our efforts to free the hostages," Chief Sendall said with obvious anger.

Liola Simmons reports that only a few passengers are taking the situation calmly. "There's a lot of crying and praying up here. Somebody has got to help us! At least when the hi-jacker is on the plane with you, you know he's not going to ditch it, unless he's interested in becoming a martyr! God, somebody do something! Isn't there someone out there who can regain control of this plane?"

LATE BREAKING NEWS

The following story was received just as the Sentinel-Observer was going to press on Saturday evening. GNN and NBC are reporting that Bruce Wentworth has hijacked a second Boeing 9337 airliner. This was United Airlines flight 8712 from Newark International Airport in New Jersey to Dallas, Texas. At last report the airliner was headed out over the Atlantic, apparently destined for the same holding pattern over the ocean as the Philadelphia to Chicago flight that was hi-jacked earlier in the day.

As a result of the second hi-jacking, the FAA ordered the grounding of all Boeing 9337 airliners in the United States and recommended that foreign governments follow suit immediately.

This has not been a good week for automatic travel. Just last Tuesday, the much-heralded Automatic Driving System (ADS) that was introduced last March on the New York Thruway led to a macabre and controversial incident. ADS allows the driver to sleep, read, or watch television while his car is automatically guided to the exit that the driver specifies. The system requires a car that is fitted with the latest ADS technology.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Jason Booth of Yonkers, New York, driving an ADS-enabled 2028 Lincoln Town Car entered the Thruway just north of New York City. He apparently programmed his car to exit at Rochester, New York. Unfortunately, when his car came to a halt after exiting at Rochester, state police found Mr. Booth dead at the wheel. The medical examiner subsequently determined that he had died just south of Albany, meaning that Mr. Booth had died almost three hours before his body was discovered by the state police.

In what is considered an unfortunate decision, the state police decided to return Mr. Booth to his grieving family by placing his car back on the Thruway, heading south, again relying on ADS technology. The police programmed the system so that the car would exit the Thruway near Mr. Booth's home in Yonkers.

An outraged public is demanding that new procedures be put in place to handle drivers who die at the wheel on the New York Thruway. "We need to protect the dignity of the dead as well as the safety of the living," New York Governor Liopi said at an Albany NewsNet teleconference on Wednesday. The governor added that the explanation by the state police that they had turned the air conditioning all the way up did not ameliorate public concern.

By year's end, three additional toll roads in the United States are planning to support ADS technology.

 

Sound-Off!

The Sentinel-Observer's Cyberspace Forum

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The Airplane Hijacking

 

The Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer invites our readers to participate in our Sound-Off! cyberspace forums. These virtual reality conversations allow readers to sound-off on the issues of the day. In order to participate in a Sound-Off! forum, you need to have Global Landscape compliant self-projection technology that will allow you to project your image into one of our virtual conversation studios. All participants are expected to use their true identities and non-entities are definitely not welcome.

The airplane hijacking created a huge response from our readers. Due to space limitations, only a representative sample of what was said in our Sound-Off! forum on the airplane hijacking is reproduced here.

Mary Kindell, Nurse: I refuse to fly in a pilotless airplane not because of any safety concern, although now we see there is a safety issue, but because of a deeper, philosophical, concern, that we human beings are losing more and more of our autonomy to computer systems. Can someone tell me who is in control here? What is happening to human autonomy when computers fly our airplanes, drive our automobiles, make judgments in legal disputes, when they make more and more of our decisions for us? Is there some point at which people will have the courage to say, "No! This is too much, technology has gone too far!"?

Bob Wooster, Sales: We all know that technological advance has been very rapid. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the Internet, and then, around 2010, it was the Son of Internet, the Global Landscape. I remember when the World Wide Web was first introduced - the way people were caught off guard. During the last five years we have been overwhelmed by the reality of self-projection technology, our ability to project our images into cyberspace, what is becoming a new reality, a virtual reality that is becoming more real every day.

Ward Platt, Accountant: So, what's your point?

Bob Wooster: The point is that it's like the old story of the frog who allows himself to get boiled to death in a pot of water because the temperature of the water only goes up slowly. He doesn't notice that the water is getting hotter and hotter, so he doesn't jump out of the water.

Ward Platt: But, I thought you just said that the technology is changing rapidly. The whole point of the frog story is that we can get caught off guard by slow changes, for example, by changes in the environment. If carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere at a slow rate over centuries, we may not be able to react in time to prevent global warming.

Bob Wooster: Well, that's what's confusing. Technological development is so rapid, BUT, it is still like the frog in the water. As long as I have been thinking about these things, which goes back to the 1980s, when I was a teenager, I remember rapid technological change, year by year. If we look back one year, we say, "Wow! Things are sure moving rapidly!" Yet, the frog effect seems to be happening day by day. Every day we are incrementally losing something, losing something of our humanity because of this technology. Day by day we are losing something.

Marvin Mace, Computer Scientist: We have experienced forty years of nearly continuous prosperity - and that is almost entirely because of computer technology. Other technologies have helped, but the unprecedented prosperity that began in the 1990s, this is due to computer technology. Let's not forget that.

Mary Kindell: It's frightening, though. Some of the older nurses and even some of the doctors that I work with tell me that there have been tremendous changes in the last few decades, in terms of the way doctors make decisions. So many decisions are now made by computers. And there's been a change in human knowledge. It's difficult to know where the doctor's knowledge ends and where the computer's knowledge begins. It's difficult to know what a doctor really knows these days. Technology makes it so easy for a doctor to hide his ignorance. I trust the computers, but there's been a big change.

Susan Dexter, Physician: And what about Specific Subject Aphasias? Isn't anybody concerned about the emerging evidence that the human brain is atrophying?

Marvin Mace: I think that the research on Specific Subject Aphasias is only saying that certain areas of the brain may be changing because of technology. Other areas of the brain are being strengthened. People are getting better and better at solving certain kinds of problems.

Susan Dexter: Yes, they can create computer systems that can do amazing things. But what about human passion and creativity, and human autonomy, and judgment? I think we need to take a new look at the impact of technology, where it has taken us, where it is taking us, before things go much further.

Marvin Mace: Do you think we have gone too far in terms of creating prosperity, in terms of treating illnesses that would have been fatal only ten or twenty years ago, in terms of bioengineering new and plentiful sources of food? It's a little late to turn back the clock.

Sentinel-Observer Moderator: Mary raised the issue of human autonomy. In some ways the pilotless airplane is a symbol of what is happening. The pilotless airplane can be viewed as a powerful metaphor for a civilization that is no longer under human control.

Marvin Mace: But, we are in control. We are creating technology to satisfy the human need to improve the quality of human life.

Theresa Cook, Minister: As a woman of the cloth I look at things in this way: Everything on the outside is a reflection of what is going on in the inside. That is the true reality, the spiritual reality. The reality of soul, spirit, and psyche.

Marvin Mace: Can't we keep this discussion on a sound scientific footing?

Theresa Cook: Dr. Mace, I listened to your comments, now you listen to mine. I think that we need to view technology as if in a dream. In other words, suppose you had a dream about flying in a pilotless airplane. How would you interpret that dream?

Frank Korionos, Psychologist: That dream is about the loss of control.

Theresa Cook: That's just my point. What we see on the outside is the collective dream of humanity. We are having this collective dream of a loss of control. Mankind is losing control and the pilotless airplane is one way that we communicate this fact to ourselves. What we call "physical reality" is a symbolic language that speaks directly to the human heart.

Marvin Mace: That's ridiculous. We are not losing control. We are in control.

Theresa Cook: Which "we" are you talking about? Are doctors in control when they lose more and more of their autonomy, their decision-making, to computer systems? Are scholars and students in control when more and more of human memory resides in computer systems, and the brain atrophies? There is scientific evidence that this is occurring.

Frank Korionos: I think we need to go through the exercise that Reverend Cook is recommending. We need to analyze everything that is happening in the world of technology as if in a dream. What if you had a dream and in your dream you were having a pig's heart put into your chest? What if you had a dream and in your dream you were being judged by an automatic jury system? What if you had a dream and in your dream you were listening to music composed by a computer program and played by a computer program? What would these dreams tell you about the state of your soul?

Rajit Muhti, Computer Scientist: You're talking about Jungian psychology.

Frank Korionos: Well, the latest incarnation of Jungian psychology, which is perhaps just the essence of all spiritual teachings.

Theresa Cook: Synchronicity. What happens on the outside has to do with the reality on the inside. Technology is a message, a message from the soul, from the spirit. What we call experience, or space and time, is just a language that teaches us about ourselves.

Frank Korionos: A message that something has gone wrong. Speaking as a psychologist, if I had dreamt, say twenty years ago, that I was having a pig's heart placed in my chest, I would have found such a dream quite alarming. I would have considered a dream of that nature as a dramatic warning that I was going astray, that I was not developing my unique human personality. Now, many human beings are walking around with pig's hearts. It's no longer an individual dream. It's a collective dream. What would have been a disturbing nightmare back then is now a human reality.

Susan Dexter: Yes, five per cent of men over the age of 65 now have a pig's heart.

Frank Korionos: Not to mention the four per cent of men of that age who are kept alive by means of those new rechargeable artificial hearts.

Marvin Mace: I just don't see the point of my staying here, of my subjecting myself to this anti-technology tirade. I came to talk about the pilotless airplane and the design flaw that was uncovered in it.

Rajit Muhti: Reverend Cook and Dr. Korionos. I think you are asking a profound question. You see, we have allowed all of this technology to creep up on us, and as Mr. Wooster said, it creeps up on us so quickly, and now we have all of these technologies in place, but if we consider them as a dream, they do seem alarming. The pig's hearts, the automated juries, the pilotless airplanes, the fact that people are spending more and more time in cyberspace. Viewed as a dream it is alarming. I suppose you could say that it is actually more like a nightmare.

Theresa Cook: But, it is not a dream. It is real. The advantage of seeing it as a dream is that it helps us to see that this all relates to the spiritual state of mankind, to the state of the human heart, to the quality of human relationships. If we can view technology in this personal way, then we won't get caught like that frog in the boiling water. If we view all of this as news, as impersonal information, then we are cooked, like that frog that doesn't know the water is boiling. We need to take technology personally, as if we have some stake in what is going on. And there is a lot at stake.

Mark Enoches, unemployed pilot: I appreciate what the Reverend is saying - about technology as a dream, or a nightmare, but let's get down to reality. The pilotless airplane threw me out of a job. That is brass tacks reality. Now, when they introduced the pilotless airplane, the public didn't support our strike. Do you recall that we went out on strike to protest the jobs that were being lost? But the public did not support us. Pilots are losing their jobs because of this new technology, but apparently the public doesn't care.

Marvin Mace: People are motivated by their own self-interests. If a computer can fly a plane better than a human being, and more cheaply, then we should let the computer fly the plane. It's an issue of safety and of economics.

Mark Enoches: What about the human dimension - the passionate enjoyment of one's work? Can we allow the computer to steal from us in this way - to take away our livelihoods, our enthusiasms, our joys? Eventually, the computer will put you computer scientists out of work as well.

Marvin Mace: Not in my lifetime.

Mark Enoches: The point is that it will happen, eventually. The computer will become so adept at doing intellectual tasks, that the human being will become completely obsolete.

Marvin Mace: It's a new form of life. Human beings need to be more humble.

Theresa Cook: There's no such thing as a new form of life. The universe is intrinsically alive. Computer technology is a message, a message concerning the damaged state of the human spirit. If computers are stealing away our work, that's because our hearts are not in our work.

Mark Enoches: No one seems to be too interested in my situation. What about my job?

Marvin Mace: How many millions of human beings have been in your position because of some new technology coming along? It's called progress. This is the kind of progress that has sustained a forty year period of unprecedented prosperity and almost continuous economic growth. The bottom line is - if a computer can pilot a plane, or perform surgery, or compose music, or do whatever, better than a human being, than the computer should be allowed to perform that function.

Mark Enoches: What do you mean when you say "better"?

Marvin Mace: I guess that is an issue that the marketplace eventually decides. And there are technical issues as well. The pilotless airplane is safer and more cost-effective than the old kind of airplane that required a pilot. Nothing personal! This has been demonstrated by countless studies. By definition, the pilotless airplane is better.

Theresa Cook: I think that the key to developing a humane technology is to get people to see that technology is HIGHLY PERSONAL. Technology is not just something that we are creating for practical purposes. Technology is a mirror. Technology is about you and me. It's about whether we are being faithful to who we really are, as spiritual beings.

Marvin Mace: I don't understand what you mean when you say that technology is highly personal.

Frank Korionos: What I mean is this: the phenomenon of human beings losing their autonomy to computer technology is a reflection of an inner reality. That inner reality is that the intellect is gaining ascendancy over the heart. The intellect is becoming dominant at the expense of feeling and compassion. The meaning of technology is that the human heart is growing cold. We are losing our love for one another. This is the message that technology is communicating and that message is highly personal.

 

 

1997, 1999 Richard Gary Epstein

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