Software is an integral component of a range of devices that perform critical, lifesaving functions and basic daily tasks. As patients grow more reliant on computerized devices, the dependability of software is a life-or-death issue.
There is a general principle involved: that software with the ability to harm as well as help us in the physical world needs to be open to scrutiny to minimise safety issues. Medical devices may be the most extreme manifestation of this, but with the move of embedded software into planes, cars and other large and not-so-large devices with potentially lethal side-effects, the need to inspect software there too becomes increasingly urgent.
As the worlds of digital and analogue become intertwined, so the fundamental idea behind free software – that people have a right to see what this stuff is doing – becomes not a theoretical matter of ethics, but a practical, quotidian necessity if we are to avoid the situation where bad code leads to the ultimate Blue Screen of Death – ours.