ITGS Syllabus

Friday, February 03, 2006

Topic 19

Implications of network failure, for example, banks, transportation, hospitals, schools by Haider

In today’s world, the ability to transfer, share, and distribute information and data is just as important as the possession of data itself. With the development of information technology, substantial amounts of money and effort are being put into research and development of efficient and safe computer networks, allowing faster and more secure data transfers. Recent years, however, have seen several cases of network failure across the globe, often resulting in severe financial damage and/or damage to life.

Before the implications of network failure can be assessed in detail, it is first necessary that the role of networks in modern computing is understood. Even though the nature of the function of networks is simple and straightforward, networks are increasingly being embedded as integral components of many other systems, such as schools, air traffic control, traffic systems, movie booking schedules, and the Internet among countless more.

Although network failures are complicated, their social implications are simple: disaster. Networks are such integral components of important everyday systems that their failures can possibly result in the breakdown of the systems themselves. For example, a large network failure affecting the Internet is bound to bring many important systems, such as online flight booking and live conferences to a halt, impacting major corporations and/or individuals financially. Similarly, a failure in a flight communication network can possibly result in the loss of lives. One recent example of a small network failure resulting in a huge impact on other systems was the failure of a traffic control computer in the UK in 20041. Thousands of passengers were delayed and hundreds of flights in the air were subjected to safety hazards.

The dependency on networks and the inherent social implications of network failures also result in a number of ethical dilemmas. First and foremost, accountability becomes difficult because “who is responsible?” becomes a vague question that is difficult to answer. Taking the example of the British flight control failure, if the failure had resulted in a significant loss of life and irreparable financial damages, no one would have been able to pinpoint exactly who was to be blamed. Many people argue that computer network systems are maintained by people, and it is these people who are responsible for ensuring such networks function smoothly. Others argue that the designers of networks are to be held responsible. Yet, others argue that no one can truly be held responsible for network failures and the only thing that can be done is to employ safer networks.

The largest moral dilemma is still whether society should be so dependent on computers and computer networks, allowing itself to fall vulnerable to computer failures. Many critics of computer networks argue that computers and computer networks are created by people and are hence bound to fail once in a while. Reducing systems’ dependencies on computer networks hence reduces the intrinsic risk of network failures destroying entire systems, possibly saving lives and money.

But it all comes down to this: the basic reason why computer networks exist in the first place is because they are efficient. As it is with all technology, there is a risk in dehumanizing networks, but the efficiency computer networks provide have outweighed the risks in experience so far. Instead of having people write letters to communicate across the globe, computers can communicate the same data in a matter of split seconds. Hence, although there is an inherent risk in embedding computer networks into important systems of society, the networks are nevertheless the only reason why information technology has progressed to where it is today, and the only sensible approach to this problem would be to invest more time and money into research and development of safer computer networks systems and ensure that the innate risk of network failure is minimized.


Dwarkesh said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006 3:39:00 AM

Anonymous said...

After reading this guide I now clearly understand the implications of network failure. The main points that I picked up from this guide is that networks are very efficient in today's world, and allow data to be transfered very efficiently. However the consequences of this is that data transferred can be lost easily and can result into severe damage globally which again bring up several ethical and social issues.

Monday, November 27, 2006 3:10:00 AM

Anonymous said...

Sure, computers are machines that were created by men, and sure, they can fail, but what makes one think that communication by paper mails, messager boys, and telephones are much better? They fail as well! There is no ideal system, and I would have to agree that computer networks are more efficient, faster, and superior in everyway.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 7:18:00 PM

Anonymous said...

Sure, computers are machines that were created by men, and sure, they can fail, but what makes one think that communication by paper mails, messager boys, and telephones are much better? They fail as well! There is no ideal system, and I would have to agree that computer networks are more efficient, faster, and superior in everyway. -Tomer

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 7:19:00 PM

Anonymous said...

good. you take a standpoint and its well backed. after reading this i have to agree with you. Computers exist and are used because there efficiency and usefullness outweughs there risk. It is a choice we humans have made. A choice which will help us progress in the future.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 7:42:00 PM

Anonymous said...

your solution about investing more research is more of a description of the status quo. its already being done, but no matter how much we invest, we won't have a perfect network. network failures are random (assuming its not hacked), and its hard to stop something thats random.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 8:02:00 PM

Anonymous said...

The contrast between social and network failure is well portrayed, the social failure was described very well, the network failure should or could have been more specific, but overall the topic has been discussed in-depth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 7:24:00 PM

Anonymous said...

After reading this article, I understand the reasons for network failure. I had found out that as we live on the technology for networks gets better and therefore gets faster and more efficient. Though even though information can be transfered efficiently, but if the network were to break down, the information would be lost. Is there any way to conserve the information that is being transfered?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 7:28:00 PM

Haider said...

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 5:07:00 AM

ronniewonnie said...

Superb essay, Haider.
Your essay helped me understand the implications of network failure and how networks are very efficient lately and we cant live without them.
The fact that computers often fail is sad and they need to improve their debugging system.
Ronald Chu

Monday, December 11, 2006 9:42:00 PM

harsh said...

Interesting. This is like one of the most controversial topics in today's world - how much should we depend on computers and technology? What if one day there's a major power failure - what would happen then? Your article seems to address those issues however in the end you say that we have no other choice since computers are efficient and therefore we have to take the risk. I guess you are will never be risk-free. We just gotta take the risk and plus advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Nothing is risk-free.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 1:48:00 AM

HeeJun Son said...

Because of the development of information technology, we are able to do many things that took a long time faster. As you said, invention of computer is the example of this. However, the technology cannot be perfect since human beings are not perfect. That is why we have problems such as network failure. Your essay is well-written and easily understood.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006 10:32:00 PM

Anonymous said...

Nice essay. Easily understood as heejun said. Didn't realize the applications of networks in everyday life and how dire a network failure can potentially be

Friday, December 15, 2006 6:20:00 AM

moyer said...

I understand now that network failure can lead to a terrible outcome on the society. We should be careful about relying on technology and networks too much. If we rely on them too much, then we're pretty much doomed when they dissapear. But to meet are unlimited wants, we need to use the technology and networks.

Sunday, December 17, 2006 5:02:00 AM


Blogger sam_shobeiri said...

It is always hard to draw the line of how much we really should depend on computers and technology. Even though digital data are great and efficient, as haider says here they are nothing but a digital data, which means years and years of data can be deleted in a matter of seconds. So is is smart for society to go completely digital? Or should we actually bother to make hard copies just in case? That's a good question.

January 07, 2007 6:08 PM  
Blogger XiaoxiaoLi said...

Very interesting! This article helped me network failure. Nothing is perfect in is world, it it therefore the comparison between the upside and the downside that guide us into decision making. Today's technology helps make our lives easier in many way. Of course such complexity brings dilemmas such as network failure. I think we should simply do our best in minimizing errors and continue to enjoy the lavishness technology showers us with.

January 07, 2007 11:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home