Deepening Dependency on Technology Raises Risk of Breakdowns

Modern technology has made it easier for people to do all kinds of things, from banking to shopping to finding a date. So when technology breaks down, people's lives go haywire, too.

Computer outages at United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange and The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday delivered a reminder about our growing dependence on interconnected networks to get through each day.

For the most part, technology has worked smoothly while hatching innovations and conveniences that have made our lives easier and our jobs more productive. Computers, though, could bring more frequent headaches as they link together with billions of other electronic devices and household appliances -- a phenomenon that has become known as the "Internet of things."

This technological daisy chain will increase the complexity of the systems and raise the risks of massive breakdowns, either through an inadvertent glitch or a malicious attack.

"The problem is humans can't keep up with all the technology they have created," said Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner. "It's becoming unmanageable by the human brain. Our best hope may be that computers eventually will become smart enough to maintain themselves."

Technology already is controlling critical systems such as airline routes, electricity grids, financial markets, military weapons, commuter trains, street traffic lights and our lines of communications.

Now, computers are taking other aspects of our lives as we depend on smartphones to wake us up in the morning before an app turns on the coffee pot in the kitchen for a caffeine fix that can be enjoyed in a the comfort of a home kept at an ideal temperature by an Internet-connected thermostat designed to learn the occupant's preferences.

Within the next few years, we may even be unlocking our doors with high-tech watches after being chauffeured home in robotic cars.

Technology's relentless march demands better security measures to...

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