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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the Editor

Responsible Programming Not a Technical Issue

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Vinton G. Cerf's Cerf's Up column "Responsible Programming" (July 2014) raised the interesting question of whether it is responsible to produce software without using state-of-the-art defect-detection-and-validation tools. Research on such tools is ongoing for decades, and despite progress made possible through improved SAT solvers and theorem provers, software-defect tools are known primarily within their research community and rarely used in development projects, open or closed source. Perhaps a more important question involves how computer science can accelerate development of effective tools and motivate their widespread adoption.

The answer is legal, not technical. The standard software license, disclaiming all liability and suitability for any purpose, should be prohibited, with software subject to the same liability and suitability terms as any other manufactured product. If software is insecure or simply does not work, then the manufacturer must show it was constructed with sufficient care to avoid liability. This financial and legal pressure would eventually end egregious practices, including failure to use the best available tools and practices, shipping bug-ridden code, and using customers as beta testers.


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