The origin of bugs goes back a long time. Long enough for people to debate which origin story is real. Some say Ada Lovelace mentioned software bugs in her letter in 1843; some say it was Thomas Edison mentioning bugs in a letter dating back to 1878. Or some even say that there was a moth found in a calculator at Harvard which caused errors in functionality, although there are more Historical Software Bugs in this story that have been refuted.
We won’t be debating about the Historical Software Bugs and their origin. But we surely will put forth major historic consequences which were resulted by bugs in programs. We all know about bugs, but for those who don’t, bugs can be defined as an error, fault, or a flaw in a computer program or a hardware system that causes it to give unexpected, undesired results, or results which it was not designed to give. Errors may occur when constructing code or overall design.
For this very purpose, there are bug management tools, software programs that keep track of bugs. A good bug management tool records, reports, and monitors bugs and resolves them before they face them. Therefore, to avoid defects in your system, you need to use a good bug management tool. It is a short-term cost, but it saves you from the long-term costs as well.
This article will be looking at eight major historical events caused by bugs, emphasizing their consequences and the importance of a good bug management tool. Although most of these events don’t involve commercial businesses and are of times when technology was not as advanced as today, there is no denying that bugs can cause serious problems for organizations that rely on software systems.
Top 7 Historical Software Bugs
In 1983, Soviet satellites reported five incoming missiles on their way to Russia. This caused a state of emergency, and the standard response would’ve been to fire back. Standing officer, Lt. Col. Petrov had a crucial decision to make. He went with his gut and decided not to fire and make anything, a decision which may seem foolish. It turns out he made the right decision as there were no incoming missiles from the U.S., and the satellite gave a false report. Had he decided to fire, it could’ve initiated a war between two superpowers on a massive scale. Col. Petrov certainly deserves an award for that. Or maybe not, if the report was correct?
2. Mariner 1 Spacecraft
In 1962, NASA’s Mariner 1 Spacecraft was supposed to start its mission to fly by Venus. It barely made it out of Cape Canaveral as it got off-course and threatened to crash back at the earth. Considering the sensitivity of the situation, NASA engineers on-ground issued a self-destruct command. It was later found out that there was a software coding error due to the omission of a hyphen. This small error cost $18 million.
3. Failed Defense
In 1991, an Iraqi missile hit the U.S. base in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. troops. Questions arose at the inability of anti-ballistic systems to detect and intercept the missile. It turned out that it had been running continuously for 100 straight hours, and every hour, the internal clock drifted back by milliseconds and had a huge impact on the system delay, i.e., 1/3rd of a second after 100 hours. This difference might seem minor for a person, but a missile traveling at a speed of 1.5kms/sec (600 meters) surely is a big difference. The radar managed to detect an object in the sky but couldn’t track it due to an error.
4. Pentium FDIV bug
In 1994, a math professor, Thomas Nicely, found a serious bug in the arithmetic unit of the latest Pentium processor. Upon reaching out to Intel, he was told that Intel knew about the existing bug. On October 30, 1994, he published his findings regarding this bug, emailed various contacts, and let people know about the problem. Intel claimed that the bug was not serious and wouldn’t affect most users. It offered to replace processors for users who could prove that they were affected, upon which there was a great public outcry. Customers demanded a replacement for anyone who asked for it. Intel eventually came under public pressure and agreed to do so. This episode cost Intel $475 million.
5. Y2K Bug
In the 20th century, the systems were not advanced, and memory storage was very limited because of which most of the systems worldwide did not add 19 ahead of the variable year number. But at the end of the year 1999 approached, organizations started to worry. They might not have foreseen software systems to sustain that long. After that, a lot of money was spent on upgrading computer systems on a global level. Those who didn’t live to tell somewhat funny consequences. Incidents like the French meteorological institute published the weather for January 1, 19100, parking meters failing in Spain, bus tickets validation machine crashing in Australia, etc.
6. Undetected hole in the ozone layer
NASA was unaware of a hole in the ozone layer for years until it reviewed its data in 1985 and found out that data analysis software was designed to ignore values derived greatly from expected measurements.
7. Deadly Radiation Therapy
Between 1985-87, a massive overdose of radiation to patients was given due to a software bug that caused the radiation therapy device to malfunction and overdose patients up to 100 times the intended dose. Due to this fatal error, three people died.
Lost in space, NASA launched its Mars climate orbiter, which crashed immediately after reaching Mars in 1999. When investigated, it was found that English units were used instead of the intended metric system. This bug cost $327 million and a year which the orbiter took to reach Mars.
These are just 8 examples, but the reality is that software errors cause a great number of problems all around the world each year. These Historical Software Bugs cost millions and billions of dollars to the economies each year. According to a National Institute of Standards and Technology study, these historical software bugs cost the U.S. economy around $59.5 billion every year. The study implies that around $22.2 billion of it can be saved if testing is improved. For this very purpose, it is important to invest in bug management tools. Some software bugs may cause only minor problems, but there is no margin for error for cases like flight control and medical equipment software.
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