Enter the characters you see below Sorry, we just need to make sure you’re not a robot. Enter the characters you see below Sorry, we just need to make sure you’re not a robot. Wait, Have We Really Wiped Out 60 Percent why software is eating the world Animals? April 10, 2014, when the entire population of Washington State had no 911 service.
People who called for help got a busy signal. One Seattle woman dialed 911 at least 37 times while a stranger was trying to break into her house. When he finally crawled into her living room through a window, she picked up a kitchen knife. Intrado programmers had set a threshold for how high the counter could go. They picked a number in the millions.
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Shortly before midnight on April 10, the counter exceeded that number, resulting in chaos. Because the counter was used to generate a unique identifier for each call, new calls were rejected. And because the programmers hadn’t anticipated the problem, they hadn’t created alarms to call attention to it. Not long ago, emergency calls were handled locally. Outages were small and easily diagnosed and fixed.
The rise of cellphones and the promise of new capabilities—what if you could text 911? For the first time, there could be such a thing as a national 911 outage. There have now been four in as many years. More and more, critical systems that were once controlled mechanically, or by people, are coming to depend on code. Nancy Leveson, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been studying software safety for 35 years. She became known for her report on the Therac-25, a radiation-therapy machine that killed six patients because of a software error. We used to be able to think through all the things it could do, all the states it could get into.
Just by editing the text in a file somewhere, the same hunk of silicon can become an autopilot or an inventory-control system. This flexibility is software’s miracle, and its curse. The software did exactly what it was told to do. The reason it failed is that it was told to do the wrong thing.