Feb 12

This is Part 3 of “20 Famous Software Disasters.”
See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

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)

One more page… Continue to Part 4

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Article published on February 12, 2008

8 Responses to “20 Famous Software Disasters – Part 3”

  1. 20 Famous Software Disasters - Part 2 : DevTopics Says:

    […] is Part 2 of “20 Famous Software Disasters.”  See also Part 1, Part 3 and Part […]

  2. Angie Says:

    You can’t beat skynet destroying the world in my opinion…but hey at least they made for some good movies.

  3. Tony Says:

    Softwares are design to handle complex situations, and being a developer is not easy. You can list 1000 such crashes (funny), but on other side you can list millions of success stories. Some of the success peoples think so obvious that they don’t mentions at all…

  4. Tony Says:

    But its good to look at where we are failing… thank for the article… Good one, Research more and you will find some where you don’t even need to go for skynet…

  5. F***in Genius Says:

    Skynet infection
    file: skynet.worlddomination.worm.trojan

    Run: winenginnerconfig32.exe
    Hidden Files
    More Details
    delete all

  6. 20 Famous Software Disasters – Part 4 Says:

    […] Windows Vista: 3GB or 4GB RAM? 20 Famous Software Disasters – Part 3 Feb […]

  7. omgReviews Says:

    Haha this list is pretty nuts. Skynet definitely wins for me. T2 Judgement Day.

  8. David Says:

    Oh totally agree with Skynet. Terminator always wins in my book.

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