Tom Cruise in Top Gun Maverick

Maverick v machine: are AI drones ready to replace real-life pilots?

Image credit: Entertainment Pictures / Eyevine

The Top Gun sequel will see Tom Cruise flying by the seat of his pants to keep cinema-goers on the edge of theirs – but are the days of fighter pilots numbered?

Is there still a place in the skies for Maverick? That was the call sign for Lt Pete Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise in the ‘Top Gun’ movie, released over 35 years ago way back in 1986 – and now returning in the long-time-coming sequel out this month. In ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, Lt Mitchell has grown up and is now a test pilot avoiding the desk jobs that would ground him. But when he finds himself training new Top Gun graduates for a special assignment, he himself could end up on a mission that will demand the ‘ultimate sacrifice’, according to the pre-release publicity. And he’s again flying alongside Iceman, played by Val Kilmer. Sounds exciting, huh?      

While this kind of danger makes for an exciting movie, it’s better avoided in real life. The military would prefer their expensive plane and its pilot back in one piece. That’s just one compelling reason to let robots fly fighters instead of humans. They’re less prone to human error, make faster decisions, and artificial intelligence means they can keep on improving. So why not retire Maverick and replace him with a machine of artificial intelligence? Would a third Top Gun movie in another 35 years’ time look like a historical drama? Find out how many more sorties the real-life Mavericks and Icemans have left to fly in our cover story.

Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne for 70 years. With all its tradition, pomp and ceremony, ‘high tech’ is not the first phrase that comes to mind when we think of the British monarchy. But looking back into the archives, we discovered that the Queen has had more interesting, landmark brushes with technology than you’d expect. In fact, she was the proverbial early adopter of some. Check out the Queen’s top seven technologies.

For the jubilee, this issue goes all platinum. It’s a rare but vital and fascinating metal. The Moon and meteorites contain a higher percentage of platinum than the Earth, where it’s ten times rarer than gold. This, of course, makes it pricey, and production isn’t rising as it’s increasingly expensive to mine. Half of that production is used in catalytic converters, so this is the focus of ongoing research to find platinum alternatives.

Half of cancer therapy patients use drugs containing platinum. It can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells but researchers are looking for better ways to produce it – could plants be the answer? Also in this issue: rethinking plastics, artificial intelligence in the post-pandemic office, why our oceans are suffocating and much more.

Mercedes EV graphic

Mercedes-Benz set a new EV distance record by driving an EQXX prototype more than 1,000km from Germany to the French Riviera on a single charge - 430km further than the range of Tesla's Model 3.

Image credit: Graphic News

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