Pilots - do we really need them?

I've been watching Air Crash Investigation's new series and it's got me thinking (rare, I know). Over various episodes, they've stated (I'm paraphrasing here) "the reason we've got pilots is to (amongst other things) think creatively in a crisis and be able to handle those things that were just not thought of during the design of the automated systems" and "We've lost so many people due to this problem" - "this problem" being things like pilot disorientation or plain and simple pilot error. A perfect example of both of these situations in a single flight was the case of a Chinese 747, where the pilots exhibited remarkable skill in recovering the Jumbo from what appeared to be a catastrophic accident in the making and getting everyone pretty much safely on the ground. Trouble is, it was the crew that caused the near catastrophe in the first place.

Now, I love aircraft and flying in general, but removing the romantic aspect of it for the purposes of this argument, isn't it about time to hand over control to the computers? The military use pilot-less aircraft and it is now considered that the pilot in military aircraft is effectively holding back the design of aircraft.

Back to civil aviation. The automation is already there. In fact, sometimes the automation is effectively overridden. Take, for example, the case of aircraft separation systems. This could easily be fully automated, but the systems tell the controllers when 2 aircraft are in dangerously close proximity, who then contacts one aircraft and says "climb", whilst telling the other to descend. Surely this could be fully automated and actually send the climb and descend commands directly to the aircraft?

Which brings us to the real question: Would the paying public board a completely automated aircraft? I suspect not, at least for the foreseeable future. The main problem I can see is that computers are not infallible, for the simple reason that they're designed by us mere mortals.

Your thoughts?