April 28th, 2003, 11:20 AM
Software Bugs In Your Dishwasher
This article talks about how, as computer technology spreads, software has made its way into appliances and devices we use everyday.
Bad code can be more than costly. Sometimes it's lethal.
_A poorly programmed ground-based altitude warning system was partly responsible for the 1997 Korean Air crash in Guam that killed 228 people.
_Faulty software in anti-lock brakes forced the recall of 39,000 trucks and tractors and 6,000 school buses in 2000.
_The $165 million Mars Polar Lander probe was destroyed in its final descent to the planet in 1999, probably because its software shut the engines off 100 feet above the surface.
It seems to me there is a balance there as with any product. When automotive engineers raise a safety issue the manufacturer determines the cost it would incur to do a recall and repair the flaw in all affected vehicles versus the odds of injury or death and their estimated cost of litigation and financial penalty if sued.
Developers say defects stem from several sources: software complexity, commercial pressure to bring products out quickly, the industry's lack of liability for defects, and poor work methods.
Not only safety, but product quality in general I think is partially determined by "pressure to bring products out quickly, the industry's lack of liability for defects, and poor work methods."
The question is, how much are you willing to pay to have it NOT be that way? While this is not true across the board, when I download shareware or freeware I expect more flaws and glitches. I expect to "get what I paid for" so to speak. If I download a free word processing program I will accept more flaws and glitches than I think I should find if I spend $200 buying Microsoft Word or whatever.
As these flaws in software start to affect your refrigerator, car, DVD player, etc. and computer software is used in more products, people will complain and the issues will make headlines, but I don't think consumers are willing to make the trade- either in the amount of time it takes to complete the product and bring it to market or in the associated cost of the product- in order to have it be a better quality product. We as conumers want things and we want them now! If consumers' desire to have glitch free products at the expense of time and / or money began to outweigh their desire to have things instantly, I am sure that the manufacturers would adjust their business models accordingly.