Elon Musk knows how to ruffle feathers, and so his assertion at an AI summit in London that, given time, artificial intelligence will make all jobs redundant, is no surprise. Nonsense, of course, but it did set us thinking about the limits.
Virtually all businesses use computers, carrying out pre-determined tasks using known data. This ranges from automatically sending financial statements only to those who are overdue making payments, right up to driving robots to carve out the structure of an Airbus wing. But to be classed as AI the computer driving the robot would have to learn something from its experience, or data from others, and change the way it works - without input from humans. The latest systems for self-driving cars do this, and seem to function in the real world much better than those that have a fixed range of responses and actions.
The key seems to be that any successful AI system needs to have huge amounts of experiential data to work with, and then to have adequate interfaces or robots to be able to act on what it works out.
In the long-term, aircraft systems will surely take over the role of pilot entirely, and will almost certainly be less prone to error. They will have the insight of Captain Sully, but make the decision to go to the Hudson River even faster. This is because the data is readily available from manuals, sensors, instruments and 360 degree visuals, and the tools (engines, flaps and stuff) are already connected.
But how about the rest of the business aviation community?
In the hangar there may be scope for AI to carry out inspections better than engineers, drawing on millions of previous checks in the same way that medical x-rays can now better be interpreted by computer systems. But to control a robot with the flexibility to carry out every necessary ad-hoc component change on any part of any aircraft may remain fantasy for a long time.
In the operations room maybe schedulers and dispatchers are destined to become observers of the process, required only in the important matter of liaising with customers.
But at the FBO someone will still need to carry the bags to the limo, to anticipate the needs of passengers, to smile and reassure. And if the aircraft is to be moved on, then the salesperson's role is safe - with their intimate insight into individual client preferences and requirements simply not available on the internet for AI to trawl.
The potential of AI is undoubtedly exciting, and if readers are putting it to work in business aviation settings then do please let us know, we'd love to report on it.
But as for making all jobs redundant? Well, even summit host and UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak chuckled at that one.