WorldWide Drilling Resource

28 OCTOBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® Computer Switcheroo by Britt Storkson Owner, P2FlowLLC Question: Can a computer be programmed to operate one way and, with the flip of a switch, operate in a completely different manner? The answer is absolutely. There are lots of examples of this, but one of the most noteworthy has to do with the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal otherwise known as “Dieselgate.” Volkswagen diesel cars could not meet exhaust emissions standards at the time, so Volkswagen developed software to detect when the car was being tested for exhaust emissions and alter its program to meet the emissions requirements, then switch it back as soon as the emissions testing was done. It worked fine until some independent labs started testing Volkswagen diesel cars and discovered this programming “flaw”. Eventually, this resulted in the Volkswagen chief operating officer’s resignation along with a number of other top-level executives and the company paid billions in fines and penalties. To add insult to injury, this also resulted in their stock prices taking a nosedive and they got sued for that too. As anyone with a smartphone can tell you, computers don’t always do what they are commanded to do. You select a certain video you wanted and get an advertisement you didn’t want because the computer obeys the program running it. It doesn’t obey you unless it is programmed to do so. The computer allows you access and control only if the program permits it. This can be both good and bad. With our water pump controls, we don’t allow the user to view every piece of information available internally. This is mostly to keep things as simple as possible and reduce the possibility of user confusion and misunderstandings. However, we do provide a configuration mode area where adjustments can be made to certain parameters - like changing the pressure range of the pressure sensor. If the user has a 0-100 psi full-scale pressure sensor and they want to use a 0-200 psi full-scale pressure sensor, it can be easily changed in the field. It’s not a secret or anything we need or want to hide, but it makes for a better product because it’s something most users don’t need to know. It just works. Could we do something nefarious like having the control unit preprogrammed to go “crazy”? Yes, of course, we could. We could show an error code after a period of time (even a long period of time like several years) that requires replacement even though there is nothing wrong with the control unit. Again, the answer is absolutely we could, but we don’t and we won’t for moral and ethical reasons. All computers reference almost everything they do to time. It’s not very difficult for a skilled programmer to set up a routine that can count the number of hours/seconds/minutes the control is on so when a certain elapsed time has passed it throws the computer into a “crazy mode” that cannot be cleared no matter what keys are pressed. The control unit you paid a considerable sum for is now useless, but it still works. It just doesn’t work the way you need it to. True computer programmers define everything that goes on with their computer. One even needs to define periods when the computer is doing nothing. It’s still operating internally, but there’s no external evidence (like indicators on a display) that anything is happening. Like most everything, these traits can be used for good or bad. Let’s hope all programmers choose the “high road” when it comes to developing their products. Britt Britt Storkson may be contacted via e-mail to michele@