5 Software Bugs That Made History

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Software bugs can have huge implications for all of us. Here’s proof. In today’s blogpost we show you our picks for five software bugs that went down in history, and trust us when we say, we did not take the decision of picking five lightly.  

The first software bug ever recorded

Ever wondered why we call software failures bugs? Here’s the answer. On the 9th of September in 1947 Grace Hopper recorded the first bug when she found a moth inside the Harvard Mark II. She consequently noted in her log book: “First actual case of bug being found.” And that’s how software bugs were born. 

The man versus the machine

Garry Kasparov, the then chess world champion, used to brag about how a machine would never be able to beat him. May 11th of 1997 marks a defining moment for computer science to this day. Because, yes you might have guessed it already, that’s the day when the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a game of chess. At the beginning of the second game, the computer made a sophisticated move when it wracked Kasparov’s defence by sacrificing a knight, forcing Kasparov to resign in less than twenty moves. As Murray Campbell, one of the scientists behind Deep Blue, later revealed, it was a software bug that triggered this winning move. Deep Blue wasn’t able to select a move and therefore picked a random one, catching Kasparov off guard. 

Doomsday or the Y2K bug

Approaching the 31st of December 1999, billions of dollars were spent all around the world to update computer systems in order to prevent an immediate armageddon. The reason being that computer scientists seemed to have thought that their code would not see the start of the new millenium, which is why a lot of programs represented four-digit years with only the last two figures. Hence 1900 was indistinguishable from 2000. Thankfully, most developers seem to have fixed the bug in time and no major incidents were reported. Some ticket machines and taxi meters in Australia and Singapore crashed, and the French weather forecasting service displayed a map on their website with the date 01/01/19100; that’s about it. 

Richest man on earth

PayPal accidentally made Chris Reynolds the richest man alive, by far. On June 1st in 2013 they credited his account with (warning: there are a lot of digits coming your way) $ 92,233,720,368,547,800. Unfortunately for Mr. Reynolds, the money was gone in no time and his account was back to $ 0, which was the correct amount. PayPal apologized for the obvious error and donated an unknown sum to a charity chosen by Mr. Reynolds.  

How Gangnam Style broke YouTube

South Korean’s Psy and his hit Gangnam Style were simply too much for YouTube. To this day the music video still is the most watched video on the platform. And that was exactly the problem. Developers built YouTube on a 32 bit integer, which means that its counter could go up to almost 2.15 billion views for one video. No one at YouTube really believed that this would one day cause trouble, but they had made their calculations without Psy. The site has now upgraded to a 64 bit integer. Let’s wait for Psy’s next big hit. 

The moral of the story – even though the above mentioned software bugs lift our tester moods, testing is key. There’s only one thing left to say on our end: Keep up the good work in battling bugs.

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Isabella Salzmann

Isabella Salzmann

Project Manager
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