Boeing and Deaths due to Software Bugs

Posted on April 8, 2019 by Marko Dimjašević

The IT field has been aware for decades that software can kill people and so we are witness of this fact again with Boeing and its two airplanes 737 Max crashing and killing everyone on board due to erroneous software in the accompanying MCAS system.

The race to profit is actually the root cause and lethal software is merely its consequence. While I believe we won’t fix the way our society works any time soon, we should insist on what is achievable in the foreseeable future; one such thing is striving to develop correct software. The US Federal Aviation Administration has one way of confirming aircraft software is good to go, which often boils down to having test runs of software for a big number of hours. They should also adopt a much more rigorous notion of software correctness based on formal methods. Writing a mathematical specification and proving the implementation meets it would dramatically improve the safety of everyone on an airplane and anywhere nearby an airplane operated by software.