How Important is Software?

From Life 3.0 : being human in the age of artificial intelligence by Max Tegmark

"On June 4, 1996, scientists hoping to research Earth’s magnetosphere cheered jubilantly as an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency roared into the sky with the scientific instruments they’d built. Thirty-seven seconds later, their smiles vanished as the rocket exploded in a fireworks display costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The cause was found to be buggy software manipulating a number that was too large to fit into the 16 bits allocated for it. Two years later, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter accidentally entered the Red Planet’s atmosphere and disintegrated because two different parts of the software used different units for force, causing a 445% error in the rocket-engine thrust control. This was NASA’s second super-expensive bug: their Mariner 1 mission to Venus exploded after launch from Cape Canaveral on July 22, 1962, after the flight-control software was foiled by an incorrect punctuation mark. As if to show that not only westerners had mastered the art of launching bugs into space, the Soviet Phobos 1 mission failed on September 2, 1988. This was the heaviest interplanetary spacecraft ever launched, with the spectacular goal of deploying a lander on Mars’ moon Phobos—all thwarted when a missing hyphen caused the “end-of-mission” command to be sent to the spacecraft while it was en route to Mars, shutting down all of its systems."

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