[Download] Best Paper 2018, Facing the Dragons, Dealing with Complex Unknowable Systems | James Christie

Experts working with complex safety critical systems talk about “jousting with dragons” and “facing the dragons at the borderlands”. Dragons represent the dangerous unknown. Safety critical systems are complex and dynamic; no-one can understand or specify these systems completely, or even say where the boundaries lie. But experts know that users will stray into the unknown, to face dangerous dragons.

The safety critical community must deal with the real world or people will be killed. They say “I don’t know” when the frightening truth is that they can’t know. These systems will always fail somehow. In the hands of humans they fail in ways hard to envisage in advance. Increasingly problems faced by the safety community will confront all testers. Every eCommerce site is complex and dynamic, however simple it appears at first sight.

If we can’t handle complexity as honestly as the safety experts and face the dragons of the unknown then the future of testing is bleak. We must be brave enough to know when the right answer is “I don’t know”.

Key Takeaways:

  • A clearer understanding of the limits of what we can reasonably know in a complex, socio-technical environment.
  • An insight into how safety critical experts are handling that challenge, with specific reference to the Safety II framework.
  • An awareness of why testers will increasingly have to offer opinions that cannot be precise if they are to be valuable. Precise answers are of little value with complex socio-technical systems.