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crashing ipads keep planes from taking off

April 30, 2015

I read a story about ipads crashing causing American Airlines pilots to be grounded. This reminded me about a topic I’ve been thinking & talking about lately.

The software and data underpinnings for much of modern society have evolved to be very complex. I can’t help but notice that this often makes modern life brittle. We depend on systems working well together and getting the right data at just the right time. When they don’t, we have a bad day.

In some cases it’s just inappropriate and ridiculous use of technology… why the heck does my fridge need internet access?! In many other cases, R&D is rushed, done poorly, and contributes to a more brittle world.

Rather than low acquisition costs (free as in a puppy!), here’s where I think the main advantage to open source resides. There’s nothing intrinsically more secure or robust about open source. However, if you can collaborate with others, and figure out common components that each of you can build upon, then it opens the door to a large and vibrant ecosystem of collaborators. Such a community enables sharing the costs, risks, and benefits from those components. As those components get more and more widely adopted, issues are more likely to be found and can be fixed quickly. This helps keep the forces compelling a brittle world at bay.

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