The Limits Of Software Liability Essay

1600 words - 6 pages

"Faulty software can cost lives, cause injury, or economic damage. Write an essay to investigate the question, under which circumstances a software company should be liable for the damage caused. Use an example where software failures are potentially dangerous, such as that of the Prius's brake software. Discuss the difference between strict and negligent liability and comment on the social and economic impact stricter liability practices for software could have."

It is remarkable, that nowadays, we have complex software systems everywhere. We have them in our dishwashers, and in our wristwatches, though they are not quite so mission-critical. But sometimes, the human factor can be devastating, because of the negligence or the strict liability who dominates, and often devastating implications not only for the man himself, but can affect the whole economy of a country, succeeding or at least trying to succeed, ignoring the institutions, rules and contract. A highly representative example of the failure of human factors in an attempt to “progress” with the help of a software, is Ariane 5 explosion, that was the cause of a huge economic gap.

It took the European Space Agency 10 years and $7 billion to produce Ariane 5, a giant rocket capable of hurling a pair of three-ton satellites into orbit with each launch. It intended to give Europe overwhelming supremacy in the commercial space business. There was no risk of lightning since the strength of the electric field in the spray was negligible. Perhaps, one problem, leading the explosion, was the visibility. The countdown, which also comprises the filling of the core stage, went smoothly until the first seven minutes when the launch was put on hold since the visibility criteria were not met at the opening of the launch window. Visibility conditions improved as forecast and the launch was initiated. The vehicle had a normal flight, until the first 37 seconds. After that went off course, its flight path, broke up and exploded. After an investigation, it turned out that, there was nominal behaviour of the launcher for the first 36 seconds, failure of the back-up Inertial Reference System, followed immediately by failure of the active Inertial Reference System, swivelling into the extreme position of the nozzles of the two solid boosters. One of the issues that the Board considered was the gradual development of the change of hydraulic pressure actuators to the main engine nozzle at a frequency of about 10Hz.

The Flight Control System of the Ariane 5 is a well and carefully designed system, including software to take measurements on the attitude of the launcher and its movements in space, using an Inertial Reference system, which includes a computing system, calculates angles and velocities are calculated on the basis of information from a "strap-down" inertial platform, with laser gyros and accelerometers. After a long research, the Board examined the case reached the following conclusions. The...

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