The Challenge of Putting Software in Charge of Everything

Think planning, writing, debugging, and maintaining software can be tricky today? Just wait, as it’s going to get a lot worse. When you’re obtaining an online computer science degree, there have been some long-standing assumptions. One used to be that things would stay still, more or less, and people were your users. You can’t bet on any of that anymore.

Computing is becoming more complex and demanding at a rate that is virtually impossible to measure., for example, last year mentioned a new delivery system that was supposed to use unmanned drones to drop products off to customers. Many assumed it was a PR stunt. Netflix mocked the concept with its own humorous take.

Guess what? Maybe Amazon is like a method actor when it comes to humor, but it sounds like the company wasn’t kidding. It asked the FAA for permission to test fly drone deliveries. The devices can carry up to eight pounds, which is heavier than 86 percent of Amazon’s deliveries, and travel upwards of 50 miles an hour.

Making such a system work would be anything but easy. Between 2001 and 2013, the U.S. military saw 400 drone crashes, 194 of which destroyed the drone or caused $2 million or more in damages. A drone and a commercial airliner nearly collided in Florida earlier this year while two people in New York got in trouble for flying their drone by a police helicopter.

The challenges of remotely controlling ground craft like self-driving cars are serious enough. Make the device able to move through the air and you’ve bumped up the potential problems by an order of magnitude. Such a system must use remote sensing, pattern recognition, and artificial intelligence, all in real time. Remember that the next time you grumble about making a user display have to manage multiple screen sizes at the same time.

Or consider the Swedish man responsible for 2.7 million Wikipedia entries. The secret to his incredible productivity is a bot that he wrote. The software pulls out data from other websites and turns it into entries.

Companies are already dealing with bots that make up an estimated third of all Internet traffic. Some are illicit programs probing websites for weaknesses or racking up faked ad views to con advertisers out of money. Others, like search engines scanning sites, are legitimate. The so-called Internet of things, which means a near future when many devices will receive and send status data and more complex information, will only drive up the importance of both using bots and keeping them out of your hair.

Computing is becoming more complex and demanding at a rate that is virtually impossible to measure. Staying on the cutting edge of technology will mean a constant dedication to improving your professional knowledge.