Out­ages lead to tech chal­lenges

De­pen­dence hurts con­sumers

Cape Breton Post - - BUSINESS EXTRA -

Tech­nol­ogy has be­come so in­dis­pens­able that when it breaks down, peo­ple's lives go hay­wire, too.

Com­puter out­ages at United Air­lines, the New York Stock Ex­change and The Wall Street Jour­nal on Wed­nes­day de­liv­ered a re­minder about our grow­ing de­pen­dence on in­ter­con­nected net­works to get through each day.

For the most part, tech­nol­ogy has worked smoothly while hatch­ing in­no­va­tions and con­ve­niences that have made our lives eas­ier and our jobs more pro­duc­tive. Com­put­ers, though, could bring more fre­quent headaches as they link to­gether with bil­lions of other elec­tronic de­vices and house­hold ap­pli­ances — a phe­nom­e­non that has be­come known as the "In­ter­net of things.''

This tech­no­log­i­cal daisy chain will in­crease the com­plex­ity of the sys­tems and raise the risks of mas­sive break­downs, ei­ther through an in­ad­ver­tent glitch or a ma­li­cious at­tack.

"The prob­lem is hu­mans can't keep up with all the tech­nol­ogy they have cre­ated,'' said Avi­vah Li­tan, an an­a­lyst at Gart­ner. "It's be­com­ing un­man­age­able by the hu­man brain. Our best hope may be that com­put­ers even­tu­ally will be­come smart enough to main­tain them­selves.''

Tech­nol­ogy al­ready is con­trol­ling crit­i­cal sys­tems such as air­line routes, elec­tric­ity grids, fi­nan­cial mar­kets, mil­i­tary weapons, com­muter trains, street traf­fic lights and our lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Now, com­put­ers are tak­ing other as­pects of our lives as we de­pend on smart­phones to wake us up in the morn­ing be­fore an app turns on the cof­fee pot in the kitchen for a caf­feine fix that can be en­joyed in a the com­fort of a home kept at an ideal tem­per­a­ture by an In­ter­net-con­nected ther­mo­stat de­signed to learn the oc­cu­pant's pref­er­ences.

Within the next few years, we may even be un­lock­ing our doors with high-tech watches af­ter be­ing chauf­feured home in ro­botic cars.

Tech­nol­ogy's re­lent­less march de­mands bet­ter se­cu­rity mea­sures to pre­vent hack­ers from break­ing into sys­tem and more rigid pro­gram­ming stan­dards to re­duce the chances of crip­pling out­ages, said Lil­lian Ablon, a tech­nol­ogy re­searcher for the Rand Corp.

The se­quence of Wed­nes­day's out­ages ap­pears to have been a fluke. Sabotage isn't sus­pected, FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance be­fore Congress.

But a domino ef­fect may have con­trib­uted to The Wall Street Jour­nal's out­age. Comey be­lieves the news­pa­per's web­site buck­led af­ter the New York Stock Ex­change's prob­lems caused alarmed in­vestors look­ing for in­for­ma­tion to swamp the Jour­nal's web­site.

It took the New York Stock Ex­change more than three-and-half hours to re­sume trad­ing, slow­ing Wall Street's usu­ally fu­ri­ous pace.


Com­puter out­ages like one at United Air­lines could be fore­shadow chal­lenges fac­ing a tech-de­pen­dent world.

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