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Argentina Blackout And Massive Target Glitch Raise Question: Why Do Systems Fail?


Argentina was plunged into darkness that affected 44 million people Sunday. And Target says its stores are operating normally after glitches prevented customers from paying with some credit cards over the weekend.

These are some of the latest examples of complex systems failing catastrophically, which has become a fixture of modern life. But David Woods, a professor in integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University, says the news media often misses the point when it comes to the reason behind these failures.

"People ... in the news are missing the way complex systems fail because they think of this as having a single root cause," Woods tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "Often they think of it as a system that works all the time, and then occasionally someone screwed it up — because they're looking for someone to blame. But complexity ... derives from the success we have at building systems at new scales."

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