When tech goes wrong: 5 of the biggest fails in tech

When tech goes wrong: 5 of the biggest fails in tech

Looking back over recent years, there’s been some quite spectacular tech fails that have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Gavin Jones
0 min read
October 29, 2018

As a tech company, naturally we love tech. In fact, we can’t get enough of it. But it’s not just us. We all use tech every day and most of the time, we need it and usually can’t live without it. But once in a while, after our ridiculous demands and impossible expectations, our longsuffering tech decides it’s had enough.

Whether that’s a renegade app not doing something in the nanosecond it’s supposed to, or an AV presentation fail making us look like fools in front of hundreds of people, tech has its own way of getting its own back. So here, in no particular order, are 5 of the biggest.

Microsoft’s AI chatbot goes horribly wrong

Back in 2016, Microsoft launched what they thought to be a game changer of AI - a Twitter chatbot going by the name of Tay. Designed to mimic the language patterns of a typical American teenage girl, Tay would learn from interacting with other users and respond accordingly in real time.

But Tay’s innocence was soon corrupted. Online trolls took advantage of Tay’s machine learning and caused controversy when Tay was duped into randomly tweeting racist and sexist comments at people, based on what it had learnt from the trolls. The service lasted a mere 16 hours before being shut down by Microsoft. Surely the most short lived reign of any tech in history?

Google comes under fire for racist photo tags

Internet overlords, Google, stirred up controversy in 2015 after its then new Photos app made racist categorisations of certain images. The app’s algorithm would tag users’ photos and group them together based on dominant objects in each image, so users would end up with a folder called ‘Cats’ when any images contained cats.

The trouble began when a user discovered the feature kept tagging images of him and his girlfriend as ‘Gorillas’. Google’s Chief Social Architect responded to tweets from the user apologising and saying Google had issues “with facial recognition due to inadequate analysis of skin tones and lighting”. Google tried fixing the algorithm, but decided to remove the ‘Gorilla’ tag altogether.

OS crash embarrasses Microsoft at Keynote

After the operating system overhaul on Windows 95, Microsoft’s next gen OS, imaginatively titled Windows 98, launched with major upgrades and enhancements to its predecessor. Naturally with any major OS launch, its creators want to tell the world. And that’s exactly what they did. With embarrassing consequences.

During a live demo, in which a hapless MS employee shares a stage with none other than head honcho, Bill Gates himself, the PC attempts a seamless connection to a peripheral device. Sounds simple enough, but W95 decides it’s not having any of it. Instead of actually working, and in an act of ultimate defiance, we’re treated to the Windows blue screen of death. Hashtag awkward.

Asimo buckles under pressure

Honda’s quite breathtaking humanoid robot creation, Asimo, has displayed an impressive array of talents since his introduction in 2000. Not least of all, running, dancing, and pouring drinks. He even starred in his own TV ad. Not bad for a 4’3”, rechargeable circuit board with a backpack.

Honda always revelled in Asimo’s ability to climb stairs, mainly because very few robots could even attempt it. But during a 2006 live appearance in Japan, Honda suffered the ultimate humiliation. Halfway up a routine stair climb, Asimo buckled under the weight of a chronic malfunction and crumpled in a heap on the floor. Though Asimo left in one piece, his dignity was far from intact.

The horror of half a million hoverboards

Who doesn't remember Marty McFly and his hoverboard from cult 1985 movie smash, Back To The Future? Even back then it was only going to be a matter of time before we had them in reality. And so it was - well, a similar version with wheels anyway. But what tech can give us, tech can snatch away.

Back in 2016, hoverboard mania reached its peak around the world. With reports (and YouTube videos) of hoverboards exploding, smoking, or catching fire, more than 500,000 of the motorised gadgets were recalled after overheating battery packs caused a string of injuries, including burns to riders’ legs and arms. 1985 called - they want their idea back.

With tech now playing such a major role in all our lives at every level, big advances happen more and more regularly, so no one’s going to get it right every time. It’s inevitable we’re going to see even more embarrassing tech fails and mishaps in the future, but let us know of any others you think should be on our list.


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