When embedded software testing is a life or death issue


When I was in high school, there was a popular TV show called “Moral Dilemma” that aired in my native country. It featured a panel of professionals such asdoctors and lawyers who discussed “life or death” issues related to their daily work:  Would you represent and defend a client charged with murder after he confided in you that he indeed killed his victim? A kidney has become available for transplant – do you operate on the rich, 85-year-old patient who promised to bequeath a million dollars toward the creation of an organ bank at your hospital, or provide the kidney to the teenager who was just accepted into the country’s most prestigious college?

The show portrayed these professions as dealing with the most important moral issues imaginable, and by implication, relegated other professions to a lower rung on the ladder. As someone growing up from a family of engineers, I knew engineers can have significant roles to play and I definitely had respect for other professions not represented on this TV show. However, it did get me to thinking: Were there also life or death issues in software?

Fast forward 30 years, and I know that there are indeed life or death scenarios in the world of engineering and software. Embedded software is a vital element in the majority of today's sophisticated medical devices—and when it fails, disastrous results follow.

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