SFI Seminar: Doomsday Machines: United Flight 232 And A Few Questions About Complicated Technology

Laurence Gonzales
SFI Journalism Fellow

SFI News:

The Santa Fe Institute is hosting a seminar by Laurence Gonzales called Doomsday Machines: United Flight 232 and a Few Questions About Complicated Technology 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov.  18 in the Noyce Conferance Room.

Abstract: As mechanical systems become more complicated, major accidents begin to emerge as part of their normal operation. In other words, it becomes 100 percent certain that a catastrophic accident will happen. (Catastrophic means that the accident results in the loss of the system and at least the potential for the loss of life.) Modern airliners are exceedingly complicated. Their systems, parts, and subsystems are so tightly coupled that they have the ability to influence one another’s operation in unpredictable ways.


This tight coupling makes all sorts of accidents inevitable, but the fact that an airliner also has to control and direct very large amounts of energy makes an accident of catastrophic magnitude inevitable. This talk will present such an accident in detail, showing photographs of the accident never before seen in public, as well as a video of the crash itself. It will explain the sequence of events that both caused the event and allowed many people to survive it. And it will then ask some questions about such system accidents that may help direct the speaker’s research over the next few years.

Bio. Author of the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why and its sequel, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. He has won many awards, including two National Magazine Awards. His latest book, Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, was called “absolutely riveting” by the Washington Post and “vividly detailed” by the Boston Globe. His essays are collected in House of Pain. Laurence is on the adjunct faculty in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. His most recent novel is Lucy. He plans to spend November 2014 at the Institute.

Note: We are unable to accommodate members of the public for SFI’s limited lunch service; you’re welcome to bring your own.

SFI Host: John German

Click here to view the online event listing.

The Santa Fe Institute is a nonprofit research center in Santa Fe. Its scientists collaborate across disciplines to understand the complex systems that underlie critical questions for science and humanity. The Institute is supported by philanthropic individuals and foundations, forward-thinking partner companies, and government science agencies.


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