The man that saved the world
35 years ago today, one man single-handedly saved the world.
Stanislav Petrov, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was working by himself in the Oko command centre and prevented a global nuclear war.
Shortly after midnight on 26 September 1983, the nuclear early-warning system reported five nuclear missiles being launched from the United States.
Soviet military protocol dictated that Petrov immediately trigger a retaliatory strike in response to these alarms, but Petrov decided to ignore the protocol, preventing what would undoubtedly have become a large-scale nuclear war. Petrov reported the alarms as false knowing that if he was wrong, it would have been too late to retaliate.
The Soviet forces had sophisticated systems, and if they had automated the system to respond according to protocol, Petrov wouldn’t have been able to intervene. Luckily for everyone, they kept a human as part of the decision process.
Petrov considered several factors before determining whether the alarms were genuine.
- He was informed a U.S. strike would be all-out, so five missiles seemed an illogical start
- The launch detection system was new and, in his view, not yet wholly trustworthy
- The message passed through 30 layers of verification too quickly
- Ground radar failed to pick up corroborative evidence, even after minutes of delay
However in a 2013 interview, Petrov said that he was never sure that the alarms were erroneous. Clearly they were, but he felt that his civilian training helped him make the right decision. He said that his colleagues were all professional soldiers with purely military training and, following instructions, would have followed the protocol without question if they had been on his shift.
So, clearly this is timely being 35 years ago today.
But why is this relevant?
You may have noticed that at Wirehive we don’t often cover anniversaries of historic Cold War incidents.
There is much to be learned from Stanislav Petrov. Primarily, humans and machines alike cannot always make accurate and ethical decisions whilst solely relying on process and protocol. The key difference for Petrov that night, was his experience; his conscience, and awareness of a number of factors outside of the standard protocol.
This is one of the many great examples of why human decision making is so important when looking at automation of systems. We like to refer to this as keeping a human in-the-loop, and it’s one of the many key considerations when designing intelligent systems.
At Wirehive we work with forward-thinking companies, helping them to solve the technical challenges that come with operating in the digital age.
This, in my personal opinion, is more prevalent now than at any time in Wirehive’s journey, because of the changing landscape of the digital industry.
We’ve all seen the trend of physical dedicated hardware moving towards virtualisation and cloud computing. From virtual machines to platform-as-a-service compute power, and serverless technologies.
What we’re seeing with digital industry is a shift from applications to digital experiences. Brands are looking for a wider perspective to apply creative problem-solving to their challenges.
Digital agencies have the skillset and approach that can solve these business challenges as well as create great experiences.
A great example of this is Carnival Cruise Line. They were able to use Azure Machine Learning tools to optimise the prediction and planning of water consumption requirements on their ships. The increase in efficiency saved them more than $200,000 each year per ship. For more details, the case study is available here; https://customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/carnivalmaritime.
Microsoft’s approach to democratise AI, really brings the power of Azure to the fingertips of the user. With many machine learning tools using code that is familiar to developers, it allows brands working with digital agencies to take advantage of exciting new capabilities.
You may wonder where Wirehive fits within all of this.
Microsoft have a focus on digital agencies due to their ability to unlock the potential in their technology and turn that potential into great stories. Wirehive are working closely with Microsoft to bring agencies and brands together, to share and educate about what’s possible, to excite and generate ideas. And ultimately to turn those ideas into a plan; usually with a initial proof of concept that can be built within weeks to demonstrate what’s possible.
I am very grateful to have been part of this journey, and I am eager to share some of what I have learned and provide some insight into what’s possible. Including:
- The Good – what’s possible, the latest technologies, and life-changing experiences.
- The Bad – considerations, when it goes wrong, and how to avoid the end of the world.
- The Ugly (Truth) – why it’s likely that your data might be blocking you.
So please stay tuned for a series of posts covering data and AI.
The team here arrange many events and are always happy to discuss opportunities, so if you have a data or AI challenge at the moment, or just want to understand any of this in more detail, don’t hesitate to contact us.