11. Skynet Brings Judgement Day (1997)
Cost: 6 billion dead, near-total destruction of human civilization and animal ecosystems (fictional)
Disaster: Human operators attempt to shut off the Skynet global computer network. Skynet responds by firing U.S. nuclear missiles at Russia, initiating global nuclear war on what became known as Judgement Day (August 29, 1997).
Cause: Cyberdyne, the leading weapons manufacturer, installed Skynet technology in all military hardware including stealth bombers and missile defense systems. The Skynet technology formed a seamless network and effectively removed humans from strategic defense. Eventually Skynet became sentient, was threatened when the humans tried to take it offline, sought to survive, and retaliated with nuclear war. (more)
12. Mars Climate Crasher (1998)
Cost: $125 million
Disaster: After a 286-day journey from Earth, the Mars Climate Orbiter fired its engines to push into orbit around Mars. The engines fired, but the spacecraft fell too far into the planet’s atmosphere, likely causing it to crash on Mars.
Cause: The software that controlled the Orbiter thrusters used imperial units (pounds of force), rather than metric units (Newtons) as specified by NASA. (more)
13. Disastrous Study (1999)
Cost: Scientific credibility
Disaster: In this ironic case, software used to analyze disasters had a disaster of its own. The New England Journal of Medicine reported increased suicide rates after severe natural disasters. Unfortunately, these results proved to be incorrect.
Cause: A programming error caused the number of suicides for one year to be doubled, which was enough to throw off the entire study. (more)
14. British Passports to Nowhere (1999)
Cost: £12.6 million, mass inconvenience
Disaster: The U.K. Passport Agency implemented a new Siemens computer system, which failed to issue passports on time for a half million British citizens. The Agency had to pay millions in compensation, staff overtime and umbrellas for people queuing in the rain for passports.
Cause: The Passport Agency rolled out its new computer system without adequately testing it or training its staff. At the same time, a law change required all children under 16 traveling abroad to obtain a passport, resulting in a huge spike in passport demand that overwhelmed the buggy new computer system. (more)
15. Y2K (1999)
Cost: $500 billion
Disaster: One man’s disaster is another man’s fortune, as demonstrated by the infamous Y2K bug. Businesses spent billions on programmers to fix a glitch in legacy software. While no significant computer failures occurred, preparation for the Y2K bug had a significant cost and time impact on all industries that use computer technology.
Cause: To save computer storage space, legacy software often stored the year for dates as two digit numbers, such as “99” for 1999. The software also interpreted “00” to mean 1900 rather than 2000, so when the year 2000 came along, bugs would result. (more)
Article published on February 12, 2008
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