TECHNOLOGIES

Gutfeld: Sully could be the last of the human heroes

FILE -- Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger

FILE -- Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger  (AP)

First, I offer you a review of the movie "Sully" — and don't worry, there aren't any spoilers.

Because you know how the story goes: Birds hit plane. Engines fail. Pilot, nicknamed “Sully,” lands plane on Hudson. Everyone lives. Sully is a hero. 

So how do you make a movie out of something when everyone knows how it turns out? 

Yes, you can bring up the success of the film "Titanic," but it's not like there was actual footage of that disaster on YouTube. How are you going to tell us a story we already know — and have already seen — on local and national news? 

The answer is to create a new enemy. Even if the enemy is innocent.

This is no longer about a man making an emergency landing. It’s about a man facing pesky investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board who suspect the emergency landing was due to pilot error. 

Since the film came out, the members of that safety board have said they were never trying to corner Sully, that they were in his corner from the start. They believe, like everyone else, that Sully is a true hero.

But since that makes for a boring flick, Hollywood needs to create a villain: the investigators, who try to pin blame on the pilot. It's the kind of acceptable mess that movies make of real-life events.

So now the investigators wonder why Sully didn't just turn back to La Guardia, especially when their flight simulators show it's possible to land there safely. It's not about Sully being right. It’s about him being wrong, then lucky. Could it be that Sully put all those lives in danger before he saved them?

That's why I'd like to choose a different villain in this film: the flight simulator — or rather, its algorithm ... its only sin being to reduce death.

The movie, to me, isn't about an emergency landing. It's about the coming end of human control, and Sully trying to prove that man is still necessary in a world run by algorithms. It's the algorithms that say Sully could have made it back to the airport safely if only he thought like an algorithm — like a machine, without emotion. 

But because Sully is human, he made the decision — using life experience and gut instinct — to land on water and save 155 people. 

But what we are now learning in the age of the algorithm is that human instinct isn't exactly the answer. Need proof? Use Siri or Waze, which we rely on for answers, provided by algorithms (not our gut). How funny: You rely on math for directions to a club, but you rely on your gut for picking a doctor, a mate, a car! Perhaps there are algorithms involved in those choices, too, and we just don't see them.

"Sully’s" upbeat message is that we still need humans. It was the heroically human Sully who saved those people, not some cold equation written on a chalkboard. It was a human who decided to land in the river and save everyone. If a computer had decided to go back to La Guardia, everyone might have died — simply because it never factored in the time spent for the human calculations made after the point of crisis.

Sully is a hero. But as we hand over most of our vital decisions to machines, he could be the last of our beloved human heroes. The only reason Sully is a hero is that we humans are still allowed in the decision-making process. Our next Sully might live on a chip.

Oddly — as machines take over — the fewer opportunities there are for human-derived heroism, the more likely it is that more lives will be saved. Once we realize machine thinking is preferable, people like Sully won't be saving our lives, because our lives will be cradled by infallible equations in silicon.

I'm not talking planes anymore. I'm talking driverless cars. Can we face the reality that machines are just better drivers, and that 35,000 dead souls every year (in the U.S. alone) may no longer die once we hand the wheel over to the unconscious, algorithmic minds of wheel-based androids in which we recline on our way to work? 

The heroes then become not drivers or pilots — but those who program the algorithms. And in time, the heroes are the algorithms themselves, once they learn to do it themselves.

The world becomes safer and safer: fewer plane crashes, car crashes and medical mishaps at hospitals. The upside: In every arena where human error is diminished, everyone lives longer. The downside: fewer movie heroes. 

Case in point: Some are already panicking that there will be a lack of organ donors once self-driving cars take over. With fewer accidents, there will be fewer fresh corpses from which to harvest healthy organs. The dead no longer save lives, because the dead are still alive. It's great news that leads to bad news. As machines take over the decision-making that saves lives, we are left with fewer chances to save lives later. With less roadkill, the organ market starves.

That might not be the only loss.

If you subtract human thinking from an equation, do you, over time, lose beneficial abilities expressed by Sully as he landed on the Hudson? For example, if we adopt driverless cars, will we evolve into animals that lack the instinctual abilities to pay attention? If we don't need to watch the road, will we lose the skills to spot obstacles, and the skills to make quick decisions to avoid them? Will we even need these skills anymore?

I have no clue. But as we upgrade technology to make our lives better and safer, we may diminish human qualities that are helpful in other arenas.

Perhaps, then, Sully is more than a hero. He’s a reminder of a time fading … a period when we trusted flesh and blood with flesh and blood.

Greg Gutfeld currently serves as host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) The Greg Gutfeld Show (Saturdays 10-11PM/ET) and co-host of The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). He joined the network in 2007 as a contributor. Click here for more information on Greg Gutfeld

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