Arthur C. Clarke? Albert Scott Crossfield? George T. Hauty? S. Fred Singer?
Dear Quote Investigator: In the early days of the space-age researchers and administrators were considering replacing human pilots and astronauts with computers. The argument against this form of automation was presented with a single humorous sentence that emphasized the advantages of humans. Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please examine this topic?
Quote Investigator: In May 1954 “The New York Times” published an article titled “Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge” which reported on suggestions made by scientists within the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance that test pilots should be replaced by machines. A set of pilots spoke in opposition to this proposal during a meeting of a NATO advisory group.
Albert Scott Crossfield was a prominent American test pilot who had achieved speed records while flying experimental aircraft. He delivered a compact comical summary of human uniqueness in the form of an interrogative. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2
“Where can you find another non-linear servo-mechanism weighing only 150 pounds and having great adaptability, that can be produced so cheaply by completely unskilled labor?” Mr. Crossfield” inquired.
The passage above was the earliest instance located by QI. Interestingly, it did not contain the word “computer”. Also, the words were spoken as a rebuttal to the idea of replacing aircraft pilots and not astronauts. Many variant expressions have evolved over time. QI believes that earlier instances may exist.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1954 May 6, New York Times, Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge: U. S., British, French Fliers Reply in NATO Air Group to Machine Proposal by Thomas F. Brady, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1954 May 6, Seattle Daily Times, Supersonic Pilots Resent Idea of Yielding to Robots (New York Times News Service), Quote Page 15, Column 5, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank) ↩