Monday, 12 September 2011

Do Not Bend, Spindle, or Mutilate

Gordon R Dickson's 1965 story "Computers Don't Argue". Please go and read it to find out how corrupted data entry can cause things to go horribly wrong...Originally published when I was 7, it was reprinted in "creative computing" when I was an undergrad like my students, and still relevant today.

The technology has moved on; we don't use punched cards - we use relational database management systems (RDBMS). But it's now even easier to

INSERT INTO CourtJudgement
VALUES amount, statute, address

instead of

INSERT INTO CourtJudgement
VALUES statute, amount, address

I'm teaching a course on Databases this semester - and this story is one of the teaching materials I use, in the Ethics section. I don't want any of my students to ever bend, spindle or mutilate someone because of such errors.

1 comment:

Zimbel said...

I've done a small amunt of database work in the past year. If you have a database that does typechecking, it is possible to distinguish the two (getting an error on the wrong one).

That said, I find review and inspection to be the top ways to eliminate this class of errors. After that, testing is a third mechanism.