Saturday, January 10, 2015

Software Recall for Autonomous Cars?

On the theme of +Adafruit Industries Show and Tell ad hoc series on retrotech, the appearance of autonomous cars at CES 2015 reminded me of a presentation by the late Dan McCracken in 1982. By pure coincidence, we were speakers at the same conference.  Since the first program I ever wrote relied on one of his +FORTRAN books, I was excited to go to his session. What I remember most is his discussion (in 1982!) of the ubiquity of technology.  He talked about his car, saying is scared him that he did not know whether or not it had a computer, but he knew his next one would.  This, he said, raised the specter of the first major auto recall due to a software error.

He envisioned this scenario for his friend who like to go ice fishing in northern Maine:
The friend gets up one morning to find his car won't start. He calls the local garage, and is asked "What release of the operating system do you have?"  "2.43"  "That's your problem: 2.43 has a bug in the square root routine. It won't start below zero."