According to a recent New York Times article, military pilots of unmanned Predator drones, who operate the drones from Las Vegas, over 7,500 miles away from where the drones are flying, experience more fatigue than actual pilots flying manned planes. The reason? Sensory isolation.
Since drone pilots operate remotely, they rely entirely upon cameras mounted on the planes to guide the planes through their environment. Unlike pilots who fly manned planes, who are embodied in the very situation that they’re operating within, drone pilots experience “significantly increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion and burnout”, according to the article. This overwhelmingly showcases the importance of taking into account the embodiment of perception and awareness.
Perhaps due to the predominance of a disembodied paradigm, these results may seem anti-intuitive. Shouldn’t the pilots who operate remotely, thousands of miles from harms way, have it easy? It turns out that reliable, healthy perception and cognition rely heavily upon sensory cues which can’t be abstracted from the conditions of lived, physical embodiment. Basically, it’s difficult to perceive the environment unless you’re actually in it.
That’s a powerful lesson. Understanding perception, or building a computer or robot which perceives, necessitates embodying the subject into the environment.