One of the ugly truths of engineering is that life has a price. Cars, buildings, power plants, and industrial machinery can always be made safer for a cost, but manufacturers are at the mercy of the market.
”If you ask people how much money you should spend to save a human life, they’ll always say, ‘Whatever it takes,’” Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California-Berkeley and author of the book Energy for Future Presidents, told us. “That’s not really rational behavior, but there’s something dry and inhuman about thinking through the actual numbers.”
Indeed, there’s something cold about it. When we pointed out that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant was originally designed for an 8.2-level earthquake a couple of weeks ago, some readers were incensed. Japan, they said, has a long history of earthquakes and its utilities should have been prepared for a 9.0. “Any designer who fails to look at the 100-year environment is failing to meet the canon of ethics,” noted one commenter on our website.
Yes indeed. There's a question with no quantifiable answer. Even the non-technically-oriented person, who might blurt out "whatever it takes," is being disingenuous. If he would spend some time thinking about it, he will realize that he's balancing benefit and risk with every step he takes.
There is no guarantee of safety for our every day lives. What does it cost to make the power plant safer? Maybe it costs some lives of people that can't afford the electricity due to that added cost. There will always be trade offs. I just hope that the engineering community will make the best decisions possible.
In truth, if people die, it was not safe enough.
If no one is ever injured, then it was probably too safe.
No device will ever be completely safe, no matter how much engineering effort is made. We just cannot predict all of the various scenarios in which something will fail.
We only know there is a problem after it breaks.
Just a thought.
And yet people get into their cars every day without a second thought. Evidently, THEY have decided that they ARE safe enough.
That's my point. This business about "whatever it takes" is simply false. It's "safe enough" when the consumers determines that the benefits are worth the risk. End of story.
Those people getting into their cars everyday have also decided that they are safe enough drivers; that the chance of them injuring or killing someone is acceptably low. The people who say "whatever it takes" do not apply the same standard to themselves unless they spend every dollar they have to ensure that they never cause harm to another person, directly or indirectly.
Judgement is a very difficult thing, but it is one of the characteristics that make us human.
Sorry, but that misses the point. Those who get in their cars might think they're the safest drivers in the world, but they cannot be clueless to the point of not knowing that someone else can crash into them, through no fault of their own.
And yet, they drive a car they can afford. Not a Sherman tank.
Same with pedestrians. "Whatever it takes" would mean that sidewalks are protected by concrete barriers, and people walk around with bulletproof vests. And yet, no one expects that.
So once again, this emotional "whatever it takes" makes absolutely no sense. An engineer basically dismisses it as emotional nonsense and proceeds to do his job.
Regardless of how well or poorly I may have articulated it, my point is in agreement with your statement:
"This business about "whatever it takes" is simply false. It's "safe enough" when the consumers determines that the benefits are worth the risk."
The key reality is that we have to find the appropriate safety vs. risk tradeoff point.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.