A well-known computer term "bug" has been a part of engineering jargon for years and have been used to describe mechanical defects and malfunctions in hardware. Thomas Edison used the term to determine “little faults and difficulties”( 1878), later the word appeared in Hawkin’s “New Catechism of Electricity” (1896), where it was applied as “any trouble in the connections of electric apparatus”. |
The case that brought the term into the world of computers once and for all, happened in 1947,when American computer scientist Grace Hopper found a dead moth trapped in a relay of a recently-built Harvard Mark II computer. The scientist removed and taped it to the logbook , remarking it as “first actual case of bug being found”.
Nowadays software errors cost billions of dollars in repairs, lost productivity, sales and actual damages, resulting the U.S. economy $60 billion annually. Software glitches are mainly small inconveniences, but simple error can also affect millions and cause great damages.
Mars Climate Crasher (1998)
A simple error that burned up a $327.6 million project in minutes caused a great scandal. In 1998, after a 286-day journey from Earth, the Mars Climate Orbiter fired its engines to push into orbit around Mars. The Climate Orbiter built by NASA approached the Planet at the wrong angle mainly because different parts of the engineering team were using different units of measurement .The software that controlled the Orbiter thrusters used pounds-force seconds measurement (imperial units), rather than metric Newton-seconds units as specified by NASA. As a result the engines fired, but the spacecraft fell too far into the planet’s atmosphere, likely causing it to crash on Mars.
Knight Capital (2012)
$10 million a minute -that’s about how much the bug in software developed for stock market cost Knight Capital. In less than an hour, company’s computers executed a series of automatic orders that were supposed to be spread out over a period of days. The problems happened because of new trading software that had been recently installed. The resulting loss was about $440 million, bringing a trading firm to the edge of bankruptcy.
The Therac-25 was Canada’s radiation therapy machine, involved in accidents in which patients were given 100 times overdoses of radiation which resulted in three deaths and three cases of critical injuries. This happened because of a faintly discernible bug called race condition. These accidents highlighted the dangers of software development methodologies and control of safety-critical systems, becoming a standard case study in software engineering and health informatics.
The Year 2000 bug (known as the Y2K problem) was an insignificant computer failure that coasted $500 billion on programmers to fix a bug in legacy software for all businesses that used computer technology. To save computer storage space, most dates were programmed to assume automatically the date such as “97? for 1997. The software also interpreted “00? to mean 1900 rather than 2000, so when the year 2000 came along, it was expected to bring serious computer repercussions.
The north-east US power outage (2003)
The 2003 Northeast blackout, at the time the second most widespread power outage in history, affected about 45 million people in the U.S. and 10 million in Ontario. While some power was restored in 7 hours, many did not get power back until two days later. Energy's monitoring software was affected by a computer glitch in the alarm system and caused widespread distress on the electric grid.
Quality software can make our lives easier but a glitch can have disastrous consequences. So is it possible to defend ourselves from software flaws? What are the dangers of software control of computer systems that have already become an integral part of our lives? Should we fully rely on technology?
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