Bad Tech: When gadgets attack

Sometimes technology turns around and bites us on the input socket

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If an iPhone 4 spontaneously combusting on an airplane has taught us anything, it's that sometimes our tech doesn't always like to play nicely. Sometimes, it likes to fight back...

Just because it looks cool, or it does incredible things, doesn't mean that technology isn't victim to plain bad luck. Far from fighting off an army of emotionally conscious robots, the matrimony of tech with humans has not always been a match made in gadget heaven.

As news of an iPhone 4 spontaneously combusting during a flight hits the online airwaves, we take a look back at some classic tales of tech turmoil.

Beagle 2 goes AWOL

Is there life on Mars? We thought we might finally find out when, in 2003, British spacecraft Beagle 2 descended on the red planet. However it turned out to be a godawful small affair - the signal was lost before landing and the £22 million Beagle 2 was officially declared lost two months later. Oops. America's probe fared somewhat better, but that might be because it wasn't controlled from a school room in Leicester, or supported by Alex James, the bass player from Blur.

Big Bang worries

When we heard that top boffins were about to recreate the Big Bang in a "Large Hadron Collider", we didn't give it much thought, but when we subsequently heard rumours it might cause all time and matter to be sucked into a massive black hole, we sacked in our jobs and joined a Mad Max-style biker gang, ready to roam the post-apocalyptic streets. Then we got word that it broke because it got a bit hot. Boy, do we feel silly.

Faulty Soviet early warning system nearly causes WWIII

In September 1983, a bug in the Soviet early warning system told the Russians that the US had launched five ballistic missiles at them. Luckily duty officer Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov reasoned that, if attacking for real, the US would have used a few more than five missiles.

But it's not always the tech that's to blame, you know...

In 2005, former East-17 front man, Brian Harvey, was run over by his own car while he was backing it out of his garage. Naturally, he blamed baked potatoes. Harvey explained that he'd eaten so many he felt ill and had pulled over to be sick, sticking his head out of the car, toppling out and accidentally running over himself. We've all been there, mate.

Labour Government mislays data. Repeatedly

"Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Computer disks holding the details of 25 million UK citizens' names, addresses and bank details... Oh, I thought I put it... er... what's that? Now a disk with the addresses of every prison warden in Britain's been left in a pub? Oh bugger."

Lightning strikes iPods

Following the case of a man being struck by lightning while jogging with an iPod, doctors from Vancouver General Hospital wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, stating, "Although the use of a device such as an iPod may not increase the chances of being struck by lightning, in this case the combination of sweat and metal earphones directed the current to, and through, the patient's head." Rumours the gentleman was listening to Electric Six, Electric Light Orchestra or Wire at the time are currently unsubstantiated. Because we made them up.

Man shoots laptop

George Doughty, a 48-year-old from Lafayette, Colorado, became so annoyed with his slowrunning laptop that he walked out of his office into a next-door bar, warned patrons to cover their ears and shot it four times, for which he was duly arrested. He later acknowledged that he perhaps should not have shot the computer, but that it, "seemed appropriate" at the time.

Millennium Buggered

As we approached space year 2000, fears grew that computer systems would break down due to the ascending number system (97, 98, 99) becoming invalid at 00, causing planes to fall from the sky, banks to break down, dogs to walk on the ceiling and a giant river of slime to flow under New York City. Turned out to be bollocks.

Sat nav shunt

One of many cases of sat nav consternation occurred on a dark night in Redditch, when 20-year-old student Paula Ceely followed hers onto a railway track not shown on her device. Needless to say, a train struck her car and carried it 800m down the track. She somehow escaped without injury, and at least it didn't push her all the way to somewhere like Wales or Croydon.

Segway tumbles

After George W Bush fell from his Segway in 2003, former Mirror editor Piers Morgan ran the headline: "You'd have to be an idiot to fall off, wouldn't you Mr President?" Three years on, Morgan fell from a Segway, breaking three ribs. Takes one to know one, Morgan.

Siemens passport blunder

T'was the hazy summer of 1999 and excited Brits were set fair for their hols. The Passport Agency duly slotted an untested Siemens computer into the mix to issue new passports and half a million missed their trips, with the Home Office coughing up millions in compensation. The decibels reached by frustrated tutting could be heard from space, although not by Beagle 2.