Rafael Capurro
Published in: Rainer Rilling, Hartwig Spitzer, Owen Greene, Ferdinand Hucho, Gyula Pati (eds.): Challenges. Science and Peace in a Rapidly Changing Environment. International Congress of Scientists and Engineers. Berlin, 29 Nov - Dec 1, 1991. Proceedidngs. Schriftenreihe Wissenschaft und Frieden. Nr. 16. August 1992. Vol. II. Marburg: BdWi (Bund demokratischer Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler) 1992, 177-179.


1. Computers are reliable.
A - Computers are instruments.
B - Are they?
A - They are good as far as they are reliable.
B - We rely on them...
A - night and day.

2. We are unreliable.
A - We are not just instruments.
B - We are not good because we are unreliable.
A - We canno rely on each other.
B - We can rely on computer software.

3. Computers are unreliable.
A - "Since 1982, no less thant 22 US servicemen have died in five separate crashes  of the USAF's sophisticated UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter"  (T. Forester, P. Morrison: Computer Ethics, Oxford 1990, p. 68).
B - Computer reliability is a myth.

4. Logic is reliable.
A - Computer software is based on logic.
B - Can we test it?
A - Yes.
B - Well, some kind of things should not happen.
A - Everything that happens has a cause. We rely on logic.
B - But we have no possibility for proving that everything happens according to a plan. Also Laplace was a metaphysician.
A - What about making our actions reliable...
B - creating a faith in the reliability of computer software.
A - How can we do it?
B - We just negate unreliability. I mean, alternatives, surprises, accidents, disastrous outcomes...

5. On reliability and unreliability.
A - What does the relationship between reliability and unreliability look like?
B - It looks like us.
A - It looks like something we cannot tie down.
B - It is a 'non place'.
A - And it does not promise to take us some other place.
B - We have difficulties.
A - We are the difficulty.
B - We are not just like computers.
A - Computers are just reliable.
B - You mean...?
A - Well, they are reliable with regard to specific situations...
B - at least as far as...
A - But, how can we know how far?
B - Do they know?
A - Are there borders of reliability?
B - What is a border?
A - Is a fuzzy forder a border?
B - Well it is more like us.
A - Do we have borders? Is our DNA a border? or our body? or our ethical imperative? or is it the freedom of the other person?
B - What about geographical borders and time borders?
A - What about the borders we call instincts?
B - Are there borders of logic?
A - Computers have borders.
B - A software is a border.
A - What is inside it?
B - Orthodoxies and a paradox.
A - Orthodoxies: Everyhing is OK. We have tested the software. No problem. Nothing can go wrong.
B - The paradox: the more reliable a software seems to be, the less reliable it really is.
A - Why?
B - Just because it ignores unreliability
A - This is sthe software paradox.
B - We are part of this paradox.
A -Reliability is a question of borders...
B - as well as a question of what is beyong the borders.
A - It is a question of relationship.
B - What is a relationship?
A - It is a difficult concept.
B - Things happen.
A - Life happens.
B - Learning to live is an art...
A - if we try to let others live, I mean, if we try to learn what a relationship is.
B - A software is a border.
A - It is not a relationship but an intersection.
B - A relationship goes across a border.
A - We are a border.
B - We are also a relationship.
A - Computers have borders.
B - They are not a relationshsip.
A - Computer power relies on a border.
B - Human reason goes beyond.
A - At least if we do not see it just within the borders of logic.
B - Is human reason still human reason beyond this border?
A - What is human reason?
B - It is not just an intersection. It is a relationship.
A - What does the intersection look like?
B - It looks like logic.
A - We have difficulties inside this intersection...
B - because we are beyond it.
A - Let us think again on reliability and unreliability...
B - together.

Last update: April 22, 2017


Copyright © 2017 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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