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[Computational Complexity] Computer Reliability

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  • Lance
    Suppose we could create a system where all automobile traffic in the US would be controlled by a central computer system. Traffic would flow more smoothly,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2006
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      Suppose we could create a system where all automobile traffic in the US would be controlled by a central computer system. Traffic would flow more smoothly, fuel consumption could be better controlled, but with a catch that failures in the system could cause 10,000 deaths/year.

      Keep in mind that we now have over 38,000 automobile fatalities per year. Even if we leave out alcohol-related deaths that number drops only to about 24,000. Still the public would find 10,000 deaths unacceptable and we would junk a system that would actually save lives as well as time and fuel.

      I find when we frame the debate on the unreliability of computers, we usually measure it against perfection, rather than measuring it against the status quo. Whenever I read the Inside Risks column at the end of each CACM, I feel they fail to point out how little the risks are compared to the advantages of computing, instead of pointing out how bad the risks compared to unachievable perfection.

      Consider electronic voting. I noticed that Diebold, the company in the middle of the electronic voting controversy, also makes the ATMs I use to withdraw money from my bank. ATMs are not foolproof, thieves have managed to fake ATM cards and discover passcodes to steal money from these machines. But banks know that the labor cost savings they get from ATMs greatly outweigh the losses.

      Will electronic voting ever completely prevent any kind of fraud? Of course not. But will it beat out the systems we currently have in place? That's not that high a bar to pass.

      I can vote proxies on my stocks and mutual funds over the Internet. There are some real money issues involved in the proxies. If Internet voting works well enough when serious money is involved, why can't we use it for general elections as well?

      --
      Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 5/15/2006 05:27:00 PM

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