Until I "aged out" of the corporate world a few years ago, my specialty was Quality Assurance for software systems. QA is a discipline that makes sure a product works as it should and doesn't break. Some of this work involves hands-on testing from the component level to the system level, and nothing's supposed to leave for production until we have eliminated all dangerous flaws and conditions.
It's become blazingly apparent that many systems are in production without having been properly tested. For example, the "blow-out protection" on the oil rig did not function. Scuttlebutt has it that the rig that exploded off Australia two weeks previous had the same catastrophic failure. Apparently the "blow-out protection," the most essential protector of life and profit, has never worked well and is seldom if ever tested. No doubt some executive over-rode the QA manager's objections and that poor soul will get fired as a result. (I may be actually giving them too much credit by assuming they have a QA department at all.) People died because there was no testing.
The mining disaster in West Virginia? No Quality oversight of the operation at all, they relied on regulatory agencies to tell them what was wrong so they could ignore it. People died because there was no quality oversight.
Which brings me to today's stock market problem. I heard about it on TV while it was occurring, and Jim Cramer was telling everybody to buy something-or-other, and the newsreaders on CNN, having nothing to read, started mindlessly speculating about the cause of the precipitous dip in some stock prices and the soaring ascent of others. As soon as I saw the graph on TV tonight, I knew what happened. The software failed. It recovered very nicely, as a well-written system will do, but it got itself all tied in knots for a few minutes and all hex broke loose. The market will take a while to figure it all out, but when, for example, Boston Brewing (Sam Adams beer) started trading for a lower than expected price, automated "buy" and "sell" orders started pouring in, and transaction volume went way up. You can't test for every possible situation with a system like that, but when they figure out exactly what that situation was, they'd better add it to the test plan.
Unfortunately, the economic disaster of the past few years has forced companies to make cutbacks in headcount, and there are a lot of good QA people looking for work. We can only hope business gets a wake-up call that these man-made disasters can be prevented.