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Case Summary

Randy Samuels, ex-programmer at Silicon Techtronics, was charged for the manslaughter of Bart Matthews who was killed by Robbie CX30. It was manufactured at Silicon Techtronics and Randy obviously programmed the robot erroneously which caused the robot to kill Bart.

The Prosecuting Attorney, Jane McMurdock, found evidence which shows that Randy improperly interpreted the physics formula. The programs specifications do reflect what Randy implemented in the robot. He interchanged and miscalculated the formulas that was handed to him. In essence, his mistake costs a person’s life.

Within the company, the Robotics Division was already having problems before the Matthew’s incident. The Robbie CX30 was an important breakpoint for the Robotics Division. The success or failure of the project will determine the survival or demise of the division. Nothing could go wrong because it would mean layoffs.

There was a large conflict between Sam Reynolds (Robbie CX30 Project Manager) and Ray Johnson (Chief of Robotics Division). Each of them have different views in how to complete projects. Ray pressured Sam to finish the project by the first of January or “heads will roll”. Nevertheless, there were already rumors that the project was already six months behind schedule.

The Sentinel-Observer had an anonymous source named Martha. Marth stated that Johnson tried to speed-up the process by cutting corners and hiring more programmers. Johnson believed that more programmers would result in a quicker implementation of the software. He carried over his methodology in hardware manufacturing to software development. Like manufacturing, more human resources would result in greater productivity. According to Martha, Johnson’s idea was a disaster. (Johnson was comparing apples and oranges.) There was no way to speed up software development with people who are inexperienced and disoriented with the development of the project. Reynolds became furious with Johnson’s initiative. The new hirees were not fully integrated to the Robbie CX30 project because there was no time. There was a deadline that need to be met.

Martha reiterated the June 12th meeting when Johnson emphasized his belief in the Ivory Snow Theory. It states that robotics software could not be any purer than 99 and 44/100%. Basically, there is no such thing as 100% perfect software and such a belief is ridiculous. Johnson was capitalizing on the success of the Robbie CX30 project since his division was already running on a loss for the past six years. He was very ambitious to prove critics that he could make the Robotics Division successful.

The personality of Randy Samuels was criticized as a “prima donna”. A term that meant that Randy was a programmer who can not accept criticism and/or his fallability. He had the mentality that he was always right; no one can prove him wrong. Many of his co-workers find him to be very arrogrant and conceited. He doesn’t work well in a team. It is either Randy’s way or none at all. He doesn’t have a positive attitude during a code review; he takes every criticism personally. However, a female co-worker find him pleasant on a personal level instead of big meetings.

Sam Reynolds has a background in data processing. He has no personal experience in robotics software. His duty was primarily managerial. Furthermore, Reynolds was always being pushed by Johnson to use his authority upon his staff because it was imperative to have the project completed by the deadline. Reynolds had a strong belief in the “waterfall” method. Reynolds carried his experience from data processing and applied it to robotics software. He somehow felt that all software development are alike. The problem with this method that it hindered feedback from potential users. Any potential problems are not found until the final software has been implemented. Users can not criticize the software for any improvements.

Sam’s “waterfall” method was challenged by Anderson. She wrote a memo to Sam that his methodology was inappropriate for robotics software. Such a software demands constant interaction because it controls the movements of the robot which is potentially dangerous to the person behind the console. Data processing software was far different from robotics software. There is no human life at stake in data processing. She stated that the Robbie CX30 involves a high degree of interaction between the operator and the robot’s components. She explained the cons of the “waterfall” method to Reynolds but he fired her two weeks after the memo was written.

In regards to Reynold’s history with Silicon Techtronics, Martha explained that Reynolds was transferred to the Robotics Division as a project manager, not as a technical expert. Waterson felt that an internal source for the open position would be cheaper than searching for an outside, well-qualified project manager. When Reynolds was hired, he was hesitant to accept position because his “waterfall” method may not be applicable to the CX30 project. However, he reluctantly gave up his methodology. He felt that prototyping, formal specification, verification techniques, object-oriented design was just a fad. He basically rejected everything except for his “waterfall” method. All the new fads were just a waste of time for him. Also, he believed that the user interaction was not priority until towards the end of the project.

A group of programmers called “Justice for Randy Samuels Committee” felt that Randy is innocent. They believed that Randy is being used as a scapegoat or as a cover-up for Silicon’s failure in its quality control standards. They showed documents which Silicon Techtronics promise its customers a robot that do not cause bodily injury to the human operator. It should be Silicon Techtronics who should be on trial because they have a legal binding contract with Cybernetics offering a safe robot.

The manual of the robot stated a sequence of codes to stop the robot whenever it acted violently. The user has the option to override whatever the robot is doing to stop it. According to Witherspoon, Matthews received training from Silicon on the operations of the robot but it did not cover the dangerous condition that may occur with the robot. There was not enough thought placed in the training and testing procedures which may prove valuable to the user.

Dr. Horace Gritty of Silicon Valley University is an expert in the design of user interface. He found the user interface of Robbie CX30 to be pathetic. It violated all of Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules. These rules are guidelines that help the user become familiar with the system. The user won’t need to be a computer expert to operate the robot. Some of the problems with console was that read/writing area was far from the computer screen. Another problem was that the system uses the keyboard as the only input device. There was no mouse that is very user-friendly and easy. The user have to memorize the sequence of keys to control the robot’s movement. Another problem was that there was no dialogue box that could tell the user the current status of the system’s process. These factors would cause the user to be inefficient in controlling the robot.

The police of Silicon Valley reconstructed and reexamined the accident scene at Cybernetics. They policed found NUM LOCK light on and there was blood smeared on the calculator pad. The monitor was displaying “Robot Dynamic Integrity Error – 45″ and the reference manual was opened to the section, “Errors/Messages”. Based on these evidence, it would appear that Matthews was trying to enter the code on the numeric keypad, however, the system would accept the input because the NUM LOCK key was left on. Matthews apparently did not see this light, therefore, he went to the reading/writing area to lookup the error in reference manual. He did not know what to do with the error so he went back to the console and retyped the code and then he was decapitated by the robot’s arm. A good interface design would have prevented such an accident according to Dr. Gritty. He believed that the robot user interface designer should be on trial here; not the Randy.

Professor Silber conducted an impartial investigation on the quality of software testing at Silicon Techtronics. The robot’s actual software was inconsistent with the internal documents. The version, which Watterson gave to Professor Silber, was different from the robot’s at Cybernetics. The Professor believed that person who was responsible for the quality assurance of the software be held responsible. The concept of “Quality Assurance” is divided into dynamic and static testing. Static is a type of an analysis where the program is examined for potential bugs or patterns that may cause an error. On the other hand, dynamic testing is when actual data is used to verify that the software performs what it is expected to do. These types of testing is critical because software is composed of many modules and when they are integrated, they may not function properly as a whole. In this case, it seems that the testing came after the robot went out the door. This only proves poor performance by Silicon Techtronics because the error would have been found if proper software testing was done such as black box and white box testing.

According to Reynolds, the software was tested and it was known that robot’s software has a defect. However, due to Johnson’s Ivory Snow Theory, such an error is not as important as the deadline. The failure of the project was more costly than having to find the error. Johnson was relying on the option of stopping the robot at any moment of the robot’s movement. He believed that any life-threatening movement by the robot could be prevented by the user.

Max Worthington resigned as Chief Security Officer of Silicon Techtronics. He disclosed to the public the e-mails that were sent among employees. He felt obligated to show the authorities the evidence which may show who is responsible for the accident.

Cindy Yardley confessed that she and Johnson conspired to manipulate the software testing results due to Professor Silber’s report. Johnson asked Yardley to fake the results in order to meet the deadline. He assured her that the “bug’ in the program would be corrected at a later version of the software. The employment of all the workers at the Robotics Division is at stake. If the software does not pass the test, the project will become a failure and the Robotics Divison will be disintegrated. There were many e-mail messages sent between Yardley and Johnson about the conspiracy. Johnson felt that if anything went wrong, the user interface would be the culprit of the accident. Nevertheless, Cindy felt guilty faking the test results but her job was being at stake.

Dr. Turina Babbage, ACM President, issued a thorough investigation of the Robbie CX30 accident. She felt that the code ethic of ACM was broken by members of the organization. The incident caused a disgrace among computer professionals.

Case Commentary

I believe that nearly all the employees of Silicon Technotronics are guilty in this case. It seems that people throughout the case articles would rather blame other people rather than themselves. Randy was very incompetent and stubborn in the programming of Robbie CX30. He probably cared for the “how” aspect of the programming but not the “what” and “why”. Ray Johnson would rather “stick” to his old experience in manufacturing hardware and apply those same methods to software development. Furthermore, he’d rather use Cindy as a means to preserve the Robotics Division. Sam Reynolds was very ambitious, arrogant and opinionated individual who stubbornly insists upon the “waterfall” program development; everything else was just a fad for him. Michael Waterson conspiring to have Randy indicted by his friend/prosecuting attorney, Jane McMurdock. The person responsible for designing the interface console of Robbie CX30. Cindy Yardley conspired with Ray Johnson to manipulate the software results of the test. Max Worthington for allowing the communication between Yardley and Johnson without any intervention or notifying the proper authorities. The above people synergistically created the conditions of an uneventful event that was bound to happen.

The real issue in this case is who is the most responsible for allowing the Robbie CX30 to go out the door without proper due diligence. I believe that Ray Johnson should be responsible and held accountable for Bart Matthew’s death. Ray used his authority to manipulate Cindy for his own selfish needs. He was fully aware of the problem with Randy Samuel’s program and he was not going to let it hinder the project’s deadline. Ray is more concerned with his job as head of the Robotics Division rather than the lives who are at stake in the operation of Robbie CX30. Obviously, Ray placed a price on the life which is nothing compared to the profits on the robot’s project. The question that should be posed to Ray: How much does a human life costs? It is wrong to place a value in a human being as part of a cost-benefit analysis. Life is priceless. I believe that Cindy Yardley would not have allowed Robbie CX30 out the door without passing the software tests. She was in a way “blackmailed” in the sense that she had to go against her moral values as a condition of her job and her co-workers. The weight of the guilt was placed on Cindy’s shoulders.

It seems that management of Silicon use Randy as a scapegoat. It seems a conspiracy when the prosecuting attorney of Randy have previously received election contribution from the President and CEO and the Head of the Robotics Division. Randy was very expendable and his incompetence in writing the program was already perfect evidence in of itself. There was no management intervention which made Randy misinterpret the formulas. Hence, the liability of Bart’s death is limited and directed towards Randy alone. However, the problem is that there should be protocols within the division that act as “checks and balances”. Randy’s mistake should have been caught by others. Randy is not solely responsible. In fact, the protocols have been sabotaged by Ray Johnson.

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