Software, per se, may not have been around for a great many decades, but the blunders that have occurred since the first algorithm made its first calculation have been spectacular! Although they aren’t specifically SAM-based, the Livingstone team believes they are too great not to share with you – we hope you enjoy!
1) $5 Flights
In 2013 United Airlines had a tiny flaw in their frequent flier systems that allowed customers to buy return tickets for $5 instead of the hundreds or thousands they would usually retail for. United Airlines acknowledged the flaw and graciously honoured the tickets of the lucky passengers who had been able to capitalise on the error.
2) California’s Prison Release
California needed to free some jail space and decided to release 450 non-violent offenders early. A great idea… until the correctional system’s software accidentally granted non-revocable, parole-free release.
3) The Accidental Death of 8,500 Hospital Patients
St. Mary’s Mercy Medical Centre in the US accidentally contacted the insurance companies of patients and informed the Social Security Department of their deaths. Fortunately for the patients, this was just a horrendous software issue.
4) The Child Support Agency (CSA)
EDS developed the systems CSA and launched in 2004. It’s not been easy sailing for EDS, the problems have included: almost 2 million overpayments to the CSA, £6.9 billion uncollected in payments, 700,000 underpayments, and almost a quarter of a million cases backlogged. Monumental?
5) 30 minutes that cost $440 million
Code that should not have been live accidentally went live. Stocks in 150 companies were bought high and sold low, resulting in $440 million loss in 30 minutes – this was the equivalent to more than twice the previous year’s earnings.
6) Mega Power Outage
Eight US states and a large chunk of Canada suffered a monumental blackout when two pieces of code were unable to synchronise. Dubbed the North East Blackout of 2003, the software blunder affected 55 million people and lasted between seven hours and two days (depending on where you lived).
7) World War 3
In 1983 the USSR’s early warning system for a nuclear strike was triggered, sending the top brass into a spin and scrabbling for the launch codes for their own missiles. A brave Soviet Air Defence Officer’s level-headedness and gut feeling was that this couldn’t be happening. Some further investigating revealed a software malfunction in the early warning system – and the world lived on.
Last year the much publicised Obamacare (healthcare.gov) programme was launched via their web portal to allow millions of uninsured Americans to have health insurance. Unfortunately the two weeks of testing (for one of the largest IT projects undertaken in recent history) was insufficient and the browsers crashed, forms could not be completed or submitted and sign-up was impossible. A great idea, very badly implemented.
9) How to Reduce Student Numbers
A German university suffered a small software failing when letters were posted to 37,000 students and 11,000 staff informing them that they were not to return to the university as they had been dismissed, left of their own accord, or had an expired entry card.
10) The Software Bug That Wasn’t
Black Monday saw the biggest single day losses in the US when 22% was wiped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average as the result of a software error. Only the error wasn’t inherent in the software (which followed the programming perfectly), it was with the humans responsible for coding. Bad instructions in bad circumstances (derivatives tied to markets) meant that the software sold as the market crashed, creating a snowball that ended with Black Monday.