Colloquium Details

Computers and Safety

Speaker: Nancy Leveson, MIT

Location: Warren Weaver Hall 102

Date: November 12, 2009, 12:30 p.m.

Host: Dennis Shasha


"It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.”

Computers are being introduced into the control of virtually every dangerous system, including nuclear weapons, transportation systems (aircraft, automobiles, trains), medical devices, and chemical and nuclear power plants. Few engineering techniques exist to provide assurance that safety is not being degraded by the substitution of digital systems for the electromechanical designs that have been perfected through decades and sometimes centuries of experience. At the same time, nothing is absolutely safe, and computers provide important advantages over the human operators, social systems, and engineered devices that they are replacing.

How do we ensure that computer controlled systems are safe? Much of what engineers do for safety was developed for analog devices. It no longer works on the complex, software-intensive systems being built today (although that hasn’t stopped people from using it anyway). In this talk, I’ll present a new paradigm for designing and analyzing such systems that is based on control theory rather than reliability theory and seems to allow us to build much more complex systems as well as apply to safety in social systems as well as engineered systems.

Speaker Bio:

Dr. Nancy Leveson is Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and also Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT. She has degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science and is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Prof. Leveson conducts research on the topics of system safety, software safety, software and system engineering, and human-computer interaction. She has received awards for her work, including the ACM Allen Newell Award, the AIAA Information Systems Award, and the ACM SIGSOFT Outstanding Research Award. Prof. Leveson is the author of a book, "Safeware: System Safety and Computers" and a new one coming out soon titled “Engineering a Safer World.”


Refreshments will be offered starting 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the talk.

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