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The Computer Crisis--The What and Why of It, and How We Can Beat It

by Leonard Lee

Pub Date: July 31st, 1991
ISBN: 1-55611-264-5
Publisher: Donald Fine

Cautionary tales by Minneapolis cable-TV news anchor Lee on how recent computer-system failures in business, government, and medicine have wrought death and chaos. As the world moves blithely toward a near-total dependence on computers, few realize the inherent danger that arises when these systems become so complex that designers cannot anticipate every combination of circumstances that a system must reliably handle. Going behind the headlines of several tragedies and scandals, Lee finds that the common culprit in computer lapses is often inadequate software. For instance, when AT&T (the world standard for computer reliability) suffered a complete nine-hour collapse of its long-distance network on January 15, 1990, the cause was an obscure software bug buried in a new multimillion-line software program. An Iranian commercial jet was shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes partly because of design errors in a $500 million weapons system. Several patients were burned to death during routine radiation therapy and a new airliner (the Airbus) crashed because the machines involved used designs overreliant on computer controls, Lee asserts. He also explores the federal government's failures to develop adequate computer systems for air-traffic control, fiscal management, and IRS operations. Overall, the author's description of the brewing crisis in computerization is far stronger than his prescriptions for correction (such as support for pending legislation to fund software development research). Lee's lively style delivers potentially dry material in a form accessible to people concerned about social and management problems and to computer professionals seeking an overview on a potential nightmare.