As Boeing Co. was developing its latest version of the 737 airliner, it discovered the design was slightly more prone to loss of control. So the company added a computer-driven safety feature — one that is now a focus of the investigation into a fatal crash near Indonesia.

If preliminary findings are borne out, the Oct. 29 crash of the Lion Air 737 Max 8 may end up being one of a number of cases in which the cockpit automation that has made flying safer also had the unintended consequence of confusing pilots and contributing to tragedy.