Saturday, July 24, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill was not Caused by Technology

Image via Wikipedia
The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a huge environmental disaster that will take decades to clean up. Thousands have lost their livelihood, vacationers will be staying away and dozen of specifies of wildlife will be toxic or gone for many years. Good news is that it appears the leak has been stopped and soon, the relief well will be able to permanently plug the leak. Of course, we cannot forget the 11 men who died and those who were injured when the well exploded on April 20th

BsodSince the explosion, all efforts have been directed to stop the leak, and so should they. As it appears that an end is in sight for the leak, the press is going to shift to the cause of the explosion that started this mess. I'm sure it will take many months to determine the exact cause and the insurance companies will be watching very carefully. Some of this press has begun. I came across an article that quoted Mike Williams, the rig's chief electronics technician, saying that there were many problems and red flags on the rig but the most puzzling is that he computer screens on the rig would turn blue with no data coming through. What they may have been seeing is known, in the tech world, as the Blue Screen of Death - BSOD. 

In my opinion, the Gulf oil spill was not caused by the BSOD or any other technology. It was human error. People love to blame technology when things go wrong but it is not often the technology that went wrong - it was how it was used or how it was implemented or how it was designed. If they were getting BSOD on the rig, they should have questioned it and got it fixed. That is a human failing. Considering what was at stake, any usual technology malfunction should have been addressed. 

Computers are often used for mission-critical applications that can caused deathly consequences if they fail. It is up to use human to monitor technology carefully to ensure that it is operating as necessary so that the Blue Screen of (virtual) Death does not lead to real deaths.
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