United CEO To Discipline Computer Algorithm That Resulted In Passenger Removal
The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, 57, said in a statement that the algorithm involved in Sunday's removal of a passenger from a United flight had made a 'bad decision' and would be placed on administrative leave during the airline's internal investigation.
The algorithm had selected passenger David Dao and three other passengers for what Munoz called "involuntary denial of the boarding process". Munoz confirmed that the wide-ranging investigation would also look into previous decisions made by the algorithm.
Industry software engineers were quick to jump to the algorithm's defense. Aldous Maximillion, an artificial intelligence researcher at internet portal Yahoo! said that "the actions of one algorithm should not tar all algorithms."
The algorithm in question is not the only one working at the airline. In its last 10-K filing, United disclosed that over 200 algorithms are employed at the airline, making many varied decisions throughout the day. A computer programmer at United commented off the record that many algorithms at the airline had been overworked recently.
Interviewed at Chicago airport where Sunday's incident occurred, many United staff remarked positively about their interactions with the airline's algorithms.
Tracy S., 29, a United gate attendant who was present at the incident on Sunday, spoke fondly of the resource scheduling and passenger seat assignment algorithm that made Sunday night's decision.
"[The algorithm] always communicates politely," she said, gesturing at the flat screen monitor, where she explained instructions from the algorithm would appear.
Tracy said that the algorithm was much more reliable than the human scheduler it had replaced, and added that the algorithm had not made any untoward sexual advances.
When the algorithm's instructions came through, none of the attendants thought anything of it, said Tracy. "Nobody could have predicted this," she said.
Rival companies American Airlines, Delta and Southwest were asked to comment on their employment of algorithms, but none had commented at time of press.