Sunday, 6 April 2014

Ping, Ping, Hello.. HELLO?! : the wider significance of MH370

Has there been a news story like MH370 since the moon landings? Is the real story that airline safety is 40 years behind consumer electronics or that the news media not found science and technology this interesting since the 1970s?

First off, the real significance of MH370 is that 239 people are still missing. I'd like to pass on my best wishes to the families of those aboard MH370 - you have the sympathy of the world with you and if it is any consolation it is obvious the world of airline safety, public relations and perhaps news presentation will be hugely improved in light of these events.

I have been gripped as much as everyone else and as the story has unfolded it's wider significance has become plain. Most importantly,  the political tensions in the South China Sea are not worth  the lives of human beings. Government release of information is decades behind social media and any attempt at lying to or covering up to a naturally suspicious will quickly be exposed.

International safety and oversight cannot be relied on to keep passengers safe. An urgent review of all forms of international transport should be undertaken to determine if improvements can be made. It is shocking to find that the technology in the much lauded 'black boxes' is from an era of cassette tapes and that cockpit security post 9/11 is still treated with the seriousness of an Austin Powers movie. MH370 is a tragedy first but also a technological story which exposes the ignorance and obsolescence of international political and governance. It is as if Apollo 13 called out 'Houston we have a problem' and we found NASA was staffed by relics from the White Star Line.

The long term consequences of airline safety may be that a new era of the robot pilot and the human 'flight captain' (an IT support person with rudimentary emergency pilot skills) will shortly be among us, with perhaps even manual car control history by the end of this century.

Seen from the other side of the world another issue is the presentation of news. In the way that airline security and comms is a generation behind reality it would seem from the demand for information about MH370 that the content of television news is also way behind their audience. To the amazement of the other networks CNN has led from the off on MH370 and should be lauded for it.

For most of my life science and technology content within news has been two minute adverts for 'geeks' and 'boffins' to promote consumer electronics. Exhibit 1 : the BBC News's 'Click', a science and technology show so breathtakingly condescending and consumerist it is beneath both CBeebies and QVC shopping shopping channel.

According to some reports the contents of the black boxes on MH370 will be useless as the the tapes - THE TAPES - only contain two hours of cockpit voice recording. They are re-written over every two hours, so the events of the crucial turn to the south in the cockpit may be lost forever. I am sitting next to a 5 year old ipod now that can record for six hours.

How many airline flights have you and your family taken without knowing about THE TAPES in the black boxes?  The same news editors astounded that the technology used to track airliners is from the 1970s I'm sure have regularly traveled by air while working ups scare stories about GM foods, vaccines etc presumably relying in the fact that their audience is as technologically ignorant as they are. MH370, it's passengers, and the millions who remain gripped by this story have proved them wrong.

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