Friday, December 2, 2022

The cobra effect in software development

When software developers are given a bounty to find bugs, they pay fellow developers to create bugs that they then find and claim a bounty.  This is an old problem, called the "Cobra effect."

From Wikipedia:

The British government, concerned about the number of venomous cobras in Delhi, offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially, this was a successful strategy; large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped. When cobra breeders set their now-worthless snakes free, the wild cobra population further increased.[5]

Other examples:

  • In 2005 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began an incentive scheme to cut down on greenhouse gases. Companies disposing of polluting gases were rewarded with carbon credits which could eventually get converted into cash. The program set prices according to how serious the damage the pollutant could do to the environment was and attributed one of the highest bounties for destroying HFC-23, a byproduct of a common coolant,HCFC-22. As a result, companies began to produce more of this coolant in order to destroy more of the byproduct waste gas, and collect millions of dollars in credits.
  • The United States Endangered Species Act of 1973 imposes development restrictions on landowners who find endangered species on their property.a While this policy has some positive effects for wildlife, it also encourages preemptive habitat destruction (draining swamps or cutting down trees that might host valuable species) by landowners who fear losing the lucrative development-friendliness of their land because of the presence of an endangered species. In some cases, endangered species may even be deliberately killed to avoid discovery. This same perverse incentive has also been observed in other countries, including Canada and various European countries.

1 comment:

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