Outages lead to tech challenges
Dependence hurts consumers
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.