Thursday, September 14, 2006

Software Doesn't Need to be Perfect?

The company that makes the self-balancing Segway scooters (the two-wheeler for people) announced on September 14 that it is recalling all 23,500 of the units it has shipped to date "because of a software glitch that can make its wheels unexpectedly reverse direction, causing riders to fall off."

As discussed in prior posts, we have come to expect a lesser standard of care in the provision of software -- The sort of thing that we would never find acceptable in other areas such as how our airplanes work. Maybe this story reminds us that those two concepts are more or less impossible to sever in practice, since there are all too many physical products that may potentially injure us that are dependent themselves on software.

That much was probably obvious already to anybody who can reach this blog. What it should also suggest to those of us practicing in cyberspace is that our willingness to let our deals go forward where the software providers to a larger project are held to a lower standard than the provider of the project as a whole. If the software provider for a car's computer suggests that it cannot take liability for what might go wrong with the car, then what is the car manufacturer to do that needs that software? Should it decide that it cannot afford the cost of the vendor's sure-thing software guaranty? Should it decide that it must ultimately bring the project in-house because it can't afford to allow quality control to lie in a third-party who is not willing to be on the hook? Should it calculate the risk of a problem and insure against it rather than try to avoid fixing the problem?

These are often seemingly irresolveable problems for buyers and sellers, although that may be a reflection of the consumer willingness to pay for safety versus whether or not it can be done. That said, understanding these issues and now to describe and negotiate them are what our subset of the profession can offer to the move the debate beyond what today is often simply a battle of wills.

1 comment:

Ameya said...

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