A 1977 Dodge van with a computerized loud-mouth back-seat driver designed to avoid collisions was demonstrated at the Governor's Regional Transportation Management Conference. Upon detecting a nearing collision to which the driver does not respond, the system barks out simulated voice messages such as "WATCH IT! WATCH IT! LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!" or "FALL BACK! FALL BACK". When the driver does nothing, the computer applies the brakes and slows the vehicle smoothly. "It was like driving with a loud, nervous and ill-tempered co-driver." The system is called "Lookout", and is made by Radar Control Systems, Inc. The computer is about the size of a cigaret pack. (Source: A front page article by Kevin Leary, with the above title, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Feb 88.) From the RISKS point of view, this could be a scary development. Inordinate dependence on this technology by people who are not sensible in the first place may tend to make matters worse. Drivers who are drunk, stoned, or sleepy may soon be taking to the roads with alacrity, possibly causing collisions among cars that do not have the devices even if the drivers themselves were magically protected. Some drivers may keep a failed unit mounted, so that in case of a collision, they could blame it on the computer. A second-order concern is that lawsuits against the manufacturer are likely in the event of accidents IN SPITE OF the device (e.g., if it was turned off). (Yes, lawsuits BECAUSE OF the device might also be expected -- e.g., if simultaneous approaches from two sides caused signals to cancel each other, due to a design flaw.) Thus, we need to check out rather carefully the social and other implications of this technology. Blind trust in such a technology may be more dangerous than the risks of the technology themselves... PGN
GTECH Corp, which operates California's on-line real-time lotto control system, has been fined more than $730,000 because of various computer system failures that have prevented bets from being placed. GTECH blamed "an overly complex system design that has proved to be too much for the lottery's central computers.' (San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Feb 88, p. 2) [Here is a need for nonstop, reliable, secure, high-integrity computing. I wonder whether the system designers really anticipated the requirements properly, and whether GTECH anticipated the risk of such a fine! PGN]
From the Feb. 23 issue of the Winnipeg Sun (reprinted without permission): COMPUTER PURCHASE OFFERS A BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS Toronto (CP) A man who bought computer equipment for $900 at auction last September is being sued by a Canadian subsidiary of a U.S. telecommunications giant, which says software included in the sale is worth billions of dollars. The story could prove embarrassing to the Ontario government. One of its agencies, the Ontario Development Corporation, turned over to a receiver valuable material. Norbert Stoeckl, president of the Scarborough Bone Analysis Clinic, purchased the source code and manuals for the UNIX operating system at an auction by Danbury Sales Ltd.
There is currently some controversy over the certification of the Airbus 320 in England. In case you are unfamiliar with this aircraft, it is to be the first truly fly-by-wire civilian aircraft. Much of the argument that I have read that Airbus uses to support the claim that the software is highly reliable is based on the fact that they use n-version programming. The London Sunday Times of December 13 contained the following article: "A math professor is preparing to go to court in an attempt to prevent the world's most advanced civilian aircraft coming into service because he believes it is unsafe." "Michael Hennell, Professor of computational mathematics at Liverpool University, wants to stop the Civil Aviation Authority licensing the latest European Airbus, the 320. He alleges that the computer program that will fly the plane is flawed." "Hennell, 47, has worked for the government and the EC on computer design. He accused the aircraft's designers of making "absurd" safety claims and has challenged Airbus Industrie to prove that the computer would break down no more than once in every billion hours of operation, as the company claims." "He is supported by Bev Littlewood, Professor of Software Engineering at City University, London. Littlewood says he also has serious doubts about the reliability of the computer system and believes Airbus's claims are unrealistic." "Airbus yesterday rejected the charges, and said the 320 would be the safest passenger aircraft ever. `We believe that the safety requirement of a total breakdown occurring only once every billion hours is achievable,' a spokesman said. Airbus dismissed Hennell's fears as extravagant and `wildly off target,' but admitted the computer had failed during test flying. The breakdowns were caused by teething problems and the aircraft had landed safely, it said." ... "The 320 is the latest and most advanced Airbus built by the four-nation consortium...It is the first Airbus to use a computer system, nicknamed `fly-by-wire,' to carry out many tasks normally performed by a pilot." "Airbus said fly-by-wire made the aircraft safer by preventing it stalling or manoeuvering [sic] too violently. It also saved fuel costs by keeping the aircraft on optimum trim." "But Hennell claimed the aircraft relied too heavily on the system. `There are always inherent faults in the software. If the Airbus computer breaks down it will put the plane in jeopardy.'" "Hennell pointed to the crash of a US F-18 military aircraft, in which the pilot failed to recover from a spin because the on-board computer thought his commands were `too extreme' and blocked them." "He is to apply for an injunction to stop the CAA [similar to the U.S. FAA] approving an airworthiness certificate for the 320. The CAA said yesterday it did not believe there was a safety problem with the Airbus computer. `The CAA has rigorous procedures for the certification of all aircraft systems ... In the case of the Airbus we are satisfied that the tests carried out achieve the safety objectives.'"
Well-I-suspected-as-much Department: I discovered this tidbit in the Federal Register (52 FR 49556, 31 DEC 1987) and thought I'd pass it along to the group. Other such systems may already be in place at other agencies, but I just happened to notice this one today. COMPUTER MATCHING PROGRAM - US Postal Service/Federal Creditor Agencies - The Post Office "...intends to conduct continuous matches [between] files of delinquent debtors [supplied by various Federal agencies] and its payroll file. Using the Social Security Account Number, USPS will [prepare a list of USPS employees who] may be subject to salary offset under the Debt Collection Act of 1982 [subject to due process]. [Of course we'll manually verify any hits and carefully discard erroneous information, so nobody will retain an undeservedly bad reputation]." In other words, "We're using your SSN, which we solicited solely for IRS record-keeping purposes, to check on your bill-paying habits too." What next? Badge-readers that make you write a check to get in the door? Barry C. Nelson
Amos Shapir writes: The Israeli state collection agency issued a warrant for the arrest of a debtor; since they had only his name (a rather common one) and the town he lived in, a clerk completed the missing information - full address, ID number and father's name - from the first entry for a person of the same name he found in the citizen's registry. At first, this clerk's action sounds extremely irresponsible. It's quite common, however, for a system to retrieve a set of records and display them one at a time. A naive operator may well not be aware that more than one record has been retrieved (yes, there may still be some irresponsibility here). Whether or not the incident followed this scenario, we should keep the possibility in mind and consider displaying the number of records retrieved before displaying any records. (Or an alert box might work as well for a Mac-style interface.) PGN comments: [This one is computer-related in the sense that input data should acquire an appropriate measure of trustworthiness and then be handled accordingly. That measure should stay with the data, as is the case with a security label. PGN] What does this mean? Practically? How would one implement a "measure of trustworthiness" for a data set such as this. Also, I have treated it as a retrieval problem; but PGN focuses on input. Does this mean that there should be something like a primary key, and that this primary key must be involved in all retrievals? Furthermore, would this primary key have to be something more descriptive than an automatically generated surrogate, such that any reasonably trained and attentive operator would notice an error immediately? But then what would the key consist of to defeat the sort of error that Amos reports? --Jim Dr. James H. Coombs, Software Engineer, Research Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship (IRIS), Brown University [In this case, the OUTPUT should bear a credibility label such as "THE FOLLOWING ITEM IS ONE OF POSSIBLY MANY THAT MATCHES THE REQUEST." If data is marked on input or on acquisition as to its credibility, and then the output process further diminishes the credibility based on the contextual nature of the processing, a lot of the false matches might have less impact on the user. This is a serious problem in the identification of suspects based on partial information, where the input data may not have been verified and the processing may introduce further uncertainties. ("Fuzzy logic" revisited?) PGN]
Date: 17 Feb 88 07:48:28 GMT From: Steven Koinm <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Taxing of information Organization: Oklahoma State Univ., Stillwater I recently came across an interesting idea presented by a hacker while doing research for a paper. The hacker said that he could not consider information property because it cannot be taxed. [...] Seems bogus to me. The hacker's lament is that the value of the piece of information cannot be precisely measured. There are other pieces of information whose values cannot be precisely measured. I understand that they are sometimes taxed [or split in a marital property settlement, which is a similar idea] based on the cost of acquiring them, sometimes on a market value, and sometimes on an estimated value of unclear origin. Examples of eack of these valuation methids include an oilfield of unknown extent, a patent, and a professional license. Would this make people stop collecting HUGE amounts of information that they keep around just for the sake of "I'll need that someday" or "Why bother erasing it, it may still be valid." Information depreciates. A software concern can sometimes depreciate the software over three years rather than expensing the effort of producing the software as it is expended.
In many countries, one form of information *is* taxed. In most western European countries, information that is covered by a valid patent is not protected unless the patentee pays an annual renewal fee, effectively taxing the value of that intellectual property to its owner. Of course, the fees make no attempt to assess the value of the property to the owner, but many taxes take on a fixed-fee form. Jeff MacKie-Mason, Dept. of Economics, University of Michigan
An unnamed hacker has raised the question of taxing information. This is perhaps only a "risk" if it catches on, but the technical question is how it could be done. Well, taking my cue from Xerox, which keeps a cycle counter in its machines and thus charges a cent or so per copy, I say it's simply a matter of an application program keeping a counter of how many times it was invoked. It could also track how many times it opened individual data files. If the counter was encrypted, it might be safe from hacking. Egads! Every time I fire up PageMaker I pay a one cent tax to the IRS. Or worse, a tax plus a royalty to Aldus! I can see that adding up fast. Of course, the IRS will create a standard withholding for users of computers; you will have to prove that you didn't actually use the program as much as was assumed, by including the encrypted Federal program ID/counter string on a form that you must file every year by August 10th (one copy per program); except for shareware authors, who must file a form listing all users who have registered, as failure to notify the IRS of a user of a shareware program is a criminal offense...
If it is the TSB service, then funds transfers can only be made to pre-arranged destinations, ie, you go into the bank and set up the service for phone gas electricity etc - to pay your bills, so, the worst someone can do is pay your bills for you. They could also find out your balance. They also offer a keypad which fits over the microphone allowing you to enter a p.i.n. and then drive a menu of voice synthesized options. Jerry Kew
For a paper on the future of strategic (i.e. nuclear) stability between the superpowers, I'd like to hear about sources that explore the prospects for systemic stability in Star Wars software. Possible topics: - The possibility of unstable software behavior in a tightly- linked system due to feedback .. a la Black Monday, say. - Design techniques to forestall/circumvent such built-in unstable behavior - The prospects for keeping human decision makers in the loop during a crisis involving SDI - Lessons learned from other large distributed S/W systems, such as the ATC upgrade, or the stock market, or even telecommunications - The prospects for SDI S/W research creating the ability to generate error-free S/W directly from algorithmic or even English-language functional descriptions (assuming that such a description is itself error-free, naturally). I'm looking for articles, manuscripts, ruminations, anecdotes, personal speculation, SDIO blatherings, whatever. Also ANY info about the National Test Bed contract to Martin Marietta. Also general info about the use, misuse, and abuse of simulations, and how the SDI S/W developers plan on convincing us that they have avoided these pitfalls. Thanx in advance. #include <disclaimer.h> Disclaimer #2: This paper is not for my employer.
The risk of Viruses, especially in computers w/o hardware supported secure OS, is of much concern lately. We intend to develop software to protect against viruses in an unprotected environment (e.g. a PC - even an AT with MS-DOS). Some of the software is "preventive", other is "corrective". The software will be developed as projects in "Lab for Advanced Prog." course. To test the software, and to improve understanding of the Viruses, we need samples of viruses. Anybody who has a contaminated disk is requested to send it to me: Amir Herzberg, Comp. Science Dept., Technion, Haifa, Israel. I will return a disk (if requested, with the programs when done). Physical disks may be better then e-mailed files. To check if I already have your Virus, or for more details, e-mail is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for the co-operation!!! Amir Herzberg P.S. I represent in the entire matter myself only, not the Technion (or anyone else...). P.S.S. Detailed information would also be most welcome. [See my comment on Dave Horsfall's message in RISKS-6.31 on the dangers of Trojan horses (and bugs!) in allegedly antiviral software. What a wonderful opportunity to plant Trojan horrors, in both directions -- to Amir and from Amir. The risks are more than Amir pittance. PGN]
I just finished reading the novel "The Adolescence of P-1" by Thomas J. Ryan, which was mentioned by Kian-Tat Lim. This was a very thought-provoking novel. Considering the learning capabilities that exist when using neural networks, it is hard to say where fact meets fiction in this book. That is scary. Could a computer possibly take over? What risk are we taking when we teach a computer to learn? Pat Reedy [The author of the Adolescence of P1 is Thomas J. Ryan, published by Collier, in 1977. JPAnderson@DOCKMASTER.ARPA]
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