Children of the Magenta

Pilots who depend too much on automation are called Children of the Magenta
Pilots who depend too much on automation are called “Children of the Magenta.” (

In general, technology is a good thing. It’s humans that are the problem. Case in point: nuclear energy versus nuclear weapons. Splitting the atom was a huge step forward in the progress of human history. But it came with the unfortunate side effect that some humans realized they could use this technology to instantaneously annihilate entire populations of other humans.

Oftentimes, however, the problem is that humans use technology as an excuse to not think, rather than to think malevolently. That seems to have been the case in the tragic crash of Air France Flight #447 in 2009. Here’s a great breakdown of the incident by the 99% Invisible Podcast.

Basically, a pressure probe on the outside of the Air France plane iced over, the automation system could no longer tell how fast the plane was going, the autopilot disengaged and the fly-by-wire system changed into a mode that no longer protected against aerodynamic stall. One co-pilot pulled back on the control stick, pitching the nose of the plane up and causing an aerodynamic stall. Despite the cockpit’s stall alert, the pilots did not perform the simple fix of putting the plane’s nose down to end the stall. Perhaps they failed to take the proper action because they were so accustomed to flying planes that prevented stalls that they didn’t know how to prevent a stall if one actually occurred.

American Airlines captain Warren Van Der Burgh refers to pilots who are overly dependent on the guiding magenta lines on their control panels as “Children of the Magenta.” Journalist and former pilot William Langewiesche summarizes: “We appear to be locked into a cycle in which automation begets the erosion of skills or the lack of skills in the first place and this then begets more automation.” So in the case of autopilot, this automated system makes it easier for pilots to forget or ignore basic flight skills, which further increases dependence on autopilot. But when the autopilot fails or turns off, such human pilots are at a loss for how to respond.

My debut novel Our Dried Voices carries the Children of the Magenta concept to the extreme. What if humans didn’t have to think about anything at all? If all our needs were provided for us? If we no longer needed to worry about jobs, money, food, shelter, etc.? Would this truly be a desirable existence? And what if the automated processes that might sustain such people ceased to function properly?

To find out what happens, download the first two chapters of Our Dried Voices for free using the form below: