Bit Flip

Bit Flip

Update: 2019-05-0842
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Description

Back in 2003, Belgium was holding a national election. One of their first where the votes would be cast and counted on computers. Thousands of hours of preparation went into making it unhackable. And when the day of the vote came, everything seemed to have gone well. That was, until a cosmic chain of events caused a single bit to flip and called the outcome into question.


Today on Radiolab, we travel from a voting booth in Brussels to the driver's seat of a runaway car in the Carolinas, exploring the massive effects tiny bits of stardust can have on us unwitting humans.


This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen. 


Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate


 


Check out our accompanying short video Bit Flip: the tale of a Belgian election and a cosmic ray that got in the way. 



This video was produced by Simon Adler with animation from Kelly Gallagher.


 

Comments (11)

g

I thought bit flipping from cosmic Rays was not surprising! NASA uses special ram to avoid this problem don't they? Ram that ensures data integrity when a single bit is flipped? I've known about this since I started my CS degree, stuff like this was mentioned in programming 1!

May 17th
Reply

g

g awesome reporting overall though! I had no idea how common bit flips were, only that they exist and prove a big problem for engineering safe computer systems.

May 17th
Reply

g

g Anyway, the reason radiation is dangerous is that it "flips the bits" in our DNA, so why is it such a leap to think about it in your Computer?

May 17th
Reply

Colm O Connor

There's an excellent episode of Revisionist History that covers the topic of the "faulty" Toyota cars. It's called Blame Game. It tells a very different story to that told here.

May 12th
Reply

Ken Gau

as an IT guy this episode is complete BS and should be ignored. there is an entire subject in software development called Data Integrity that stops this from happening. to nontech people this story is very misleading. couldn't they just stop the car by putting it on neutral? Electrical engineers generally don't know software assurance design or SIS so you are asking the wrong guy.

May 12th
Reply

Hunt Hawkins

Ken Gau Data integrity that you are talking about is related to data storage. It can not necessarily stop a bit from flipping at the transistor/ logic level. If a voltage changes enough to get below/above the Vth(theshold) of a mosfet the signal to the mcu will change and the data can be corrupted in real time.

Jul 9th
Reply

Alex Barber

Ken Gau whats BS specifically? was a bit flipped?

May 16th
Reply

Charles Lawrence

TURN THE CAR OFF

May 11th
Reply

Darcy Tranter-Cook

Kinda messed up you played a 911 call of the last moments of four people's lives without any kind of heads up.

May 9th
Reply

Darcy Tranter-Cook

Alex Gauthier what?

May 11th
Reply

Alex Gauthier

Darcy Tranter-Cook gratitude is a great practice for avoiding being offended/disturbed. it's not always easy but at the end of the day only you are responsible for the maintanence of your peace.

May 11th
Reply
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