the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

A Bad Programmer is a Killer


You may think " a Killer" be a dangerous and serious title. But please consider carefully "how are computers used now?"

The computer usage in the medical care is remarkable. There are so many medical equipments sitting in places, where serious patients are treated such as intensive care unit.@The computers heavily control the equipments. Doctors and nurses' work is to keep a watch and care their patient, but this work is supported greatly by medical equipments. @Modern advanced medical care is realized with the computer-equipped medical appliances.

Let's change the subject from intensive care unit to the radiology department.@There was only X-ray machine in old days. The radiology was not a leading department. But now the highly computerized instruments, such as CT scanner, enable to examine internal parts of human body visually in various ways. A doctor can examine an embryo by the computerized equipment, which uses the ultrasonic wave. Therefore it becomes easy to take measures before delivery.

These medical equipments utilize image-processing technology, which is one of the most advanced in the computer engineering. Therefore they are sold at a high rate. The higher resolution images make more accurate diagnostics. So the market has very tough technological competition.

The way of the blood test and urinalysis has been changed, too. You can never see the medical technician examining the specimen-by-specimen putting chemical reagent. In big hospitals, the machine takes care of analyzing the constituent of blood after taking the blood sample. The results are displayed on the computer monitor when the doctor makes a diagnosis. It is hardly done by the human being in such a small amount of time.

It is very hard job to dispense prescriptions for inpatients. There are more than one thousand inpatients in a gigantic hospital. The computer equipped machine picks up the medicines for each inpatient, puts them into the bags, and prints inpatient's name on the bags.

Hospitals, especially big ones, strongly depend on computers. People in the most advanced area of medical care are considering about making researches on performing computer-aided operations.

How about the transportation? Aircraft has autopilot. Of course it means computers control the aircraft. We call the airplane, which is filled by such kind of functions, as "High-Tech craft". The readers may remember the China airline crash of the Airbus A300-600R at Nagoya Airport, Komaki Japan in April 26th 1994. Total 264 crews and passengers were killed in the accident.

The origin of the crash was concluded as a scramble between pilots and computer over control for operation. What happened was the pilots didn't recognize the computer had the control to pilot the plane, mistook the control belonged to them, and tried to control the aircraft. It is clear that the misunderstanding of the pilot caused the crash, but it is not the only reason. Even the best pilot, who is trained sufficiently, may make a mistake. The system should have been designed to notify when pilots make mistake, or at least to make it easier for them to find their mistake. But how to do so is really hard.

To begin with, there is a fundamental problem; which can operate aircrafts more safely, pilots or computers. Recently it is obvious that autopilot has less accident rate under normal flight conditions. Since an aircraft is a machine, it's inevitable to have its parts broken in various ways. I heard even when one or two engines stop to run, it will not cause a crash immediately. But the program's ability to deal with emergent situation depends on how much they consider when coding it. Programmers must assume that pilots are included to the causes of problem, because a program doesn't deal with things not planned. So you'll never know what happens in unplanned situations. The autopilot system of aircraft steadily improves its reliability at the large cost of crash accidents.

Besides aircrafts, trains are automated rapidly in these days. There are happenings that trains leave its engineer and conductor at a station.

Also many computers are used in cars. Because I regard myself as a computer engineer, I feel chill go down my spine when riding computer-controlled vehicles.

As long as we use public transportations, it is not too much to say that our life strongly depend on computer controls.

The trouble of the medical equipment and the transport facilities will cause immediate danger to human life. Most of the troubles are due to the computer program. After all, to trust these machines is to trust the program, which control the machine.

It is a programmer who makes programs for the machines. The quality of program is proportional to the programmer's skill. If a poor skilled programmer makes programs, the machine may run in unimaginable way. Even with various checking procedures, letting a bad programmer make programs means paying to a killer.

It is quite rare for a general company to deal directly with the danger of the human life. However it is highly likely that it incur loss caused by the bad programmer. So there are enough possibilities that he/she puts the company's life in danger.

Since the programmer is a human being, it is unavoidable that he/she makes mistakes and faults. Failure teaches lessons. It's the cost for progress. But I do not want to pay for entirely worthless things.


Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by A.T.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese