Computer Crashes May Be Due to Forces Beyond Our Solar System

Computer Crashes May Be Due to Forces Beyond Our Solar System

Published By: Computer World, 2/17/2017

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Interference from subatomic particles could be the cause of serious computer malfunctions at the hardware level. A single-event upset, or SEU, can disrupt microelectric circuitry, altering data or causing system failures.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of Article: 11.2

Extended Discussion Questions

  • The article mentions that this phenomenon was blamed for an electronic voting error. What could be some consequences of such errors going unnoticed?
  • Is it possible that SEUs could be blamed in the future for malfunctions that they didn’t cause? (Example to start: Could someone blame an SEU for an election outcome they didn’t like, even if it was actually valid?)
    • What consequences could that have?
  • What are some potential consequences of the uncertainty introduced by SEUs, for example when trying to find the source of a malfunction?
    • If you’ve covered error-checking methods: How might you address that uncertainty?
    • How feasible would it be to implement such safeguards for all devices and systems?
    • How would you decide which systems to safeguard first?
  • Does this story change your view of the overall reliability of transistor-based systems? Why or why not?
    • As more aspects of life come to depend on such systems, how can we limit or mitigate the impact of vulnerabilities like SEUs?

Relating This Story to the CSP Curriculum Framework

Global Impact Learning Objectives:

  • LO 7.3.1 Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing.

Other CSP Big Ideas:

  • Idea 3 Data and Information

Banner Image:Network Visualization – Violet – Offset Crop“, derivative work by ICSI. New license: CC BY-SA 4.0. Based on “Social Network Analysis Visualization” by Martin Grandjean. Original license: CC BY-SA 3.0.

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