Subject: Re: rocket science
From: Bernard Lang <>
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005 13:19:36 +0100

* Stephen J. Turnbull <>, le 28-02-05, a écrit:
> >>>>> "Tom" == Tom Lord <> writes:
>     Tom> If you ask me `which is more likely to cripple all of
>     Tom> civilization: a bug in rocket software or a bug in desktop
>     Tom> software?' -- I'm pretty sure that the bug in desktop
>     Tom> software presents the greater risk.  I'll add that I think
>     Tom> that that particular risk is, already, non-negligable."
> I have to disagree.  First, the fact that it's on a desktop means that
> there are thousands or millions of human beings standing between it
> and doing real damage.  The same social systems that cushion
> civilization from buggy human beings will cushion it from buggy
> desktop software.  Because in the end, the human pushes the lever and
> we already know better than to trust the human.

I agree

> And we already know where to look for civilization-crippling bugs: not
> in space nor on the desktop, but in the software that controls the
> electric power grid, or the telephone system, or railroads.  That's
> not a matter of analysis---that's a matter of history.

I disagree

There are many human activities or technological constructs that are
already regarded as necessary.  Bugs may cripple them for a while, but
the demand is such that the bugs will be dealt with and
"civilization"wil go on.

This is not the case with rocket science, or some other endeavors.
They are regarded by a majority as expensive toys that we could do
without.  The recent space launch in Japan was critical (according to
what I heard, but you may know better) because the public would not
have supported the program any longer if it had failed.  Software can
be crippling where the public support for important progress is highly
dependent on success, and when failure can mean decades of delay for
lack of public, hence political, support.