Epic Fail: The Top 10 Most Terrifying Technology Disasters

Tech Nightmare

Check out some of the worst tech nightmares from the Digital Trends staff.

What’s scarier than Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and that creepy girl from The Ring combined? The horror of technology when it bombs out on us at the worst possible time, as both everyday individuals and some the world’s most prestigious companies alike can attest.

We’ve all been there: After 13 hours straight cracking away on a term paper, or that long overdue PowerPoint presentation, your computer crashes and the saved copy is corrupted. Or the company you sent your resume to three weeks ago finally calls to arrange a job interview, and your phone battery dies right before you accept. Maybe you’ve even driven miles into the Cascade mountain range with good faith in your GPS system, only to realize the lodge it was taking you to doesn’t exist and the wedding you’re supposed to be at begins in 15 minutes.

The moral of the story: Sometimes even the most so-called “advanced” technology fails in painful ways, and when it does so at particularly inopportune times, it makes for some spectacular catastrophes. Thought accidentally torching those tax records or deleting your favorite World of Warcraft character was horrific, though? Please – you should be thankful. It’s nothing compared to the following all-time record high-tech disasters, a cornucopia of mesmerizing meltdowns and public laughingstocks which rank among the world’s most spine-tingling, cringe-worthy failures.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Hot Coffee Mod

Gamers find hidden surprises and Easter eggs (usually quirky in-jokes and references to past titles) in favorite video games all the time. But when clever hackers discovered a full-blown sex simulation known as “the hot coffee mod” built into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, already-controversial publisher Rockstar Games suddenly found itself in really, really hot water. Boxes were pulled from shelves, industry ratings board the ESRB gave the game a sales kiss of death by stamping an Adults-Only rating on it, and parent company Take-Two Interactive ended up on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit alleging consumer fraud. Politicians like Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton even piled on, trying to introduce new video game legislation in the wake of the event to bolster their family-friendly images. Bottom line: Next time, it’s best to go with decaf.

Grand Theift Auto

Bill Gates Gets The Blue Screen of Death

When you’re the figurehead for everything that ever goes awry on the world’s most popular operating system, you can’t afford to make mistakes. So when you do, things get a little tense. Like back in 1998, when Bill Gates attempted to show off the new Plug n Play capability on a beta version of Windows 98, only to get slapped with a Blue Screen of Death in front of an audience of angsty nerds at COMDEX. Ironically, the nervous attempt at comedy from his colleague (seen in the following YouTube video) sets new heights for awkwardness, even amongst the socially introverted set.

Bill Gates Windows Blue

The Y2K Meltdown That Never Was

Even if the year 2000 didn’t herald the end of modern computerized society as we know it, the hype leading up to it became a catastrophe in its own right. From survivalists who carved bunkers under their backyards and spent small fortunes on guns and ammo to the federal government, everyone expected a massive problem that never came, and spent accordingly. The total cost of preemptive repairs and preparation has been estimated at $300 billion, making it the costliest computer mistake – or hoax – in history. Apocalypse now? Only if you weren’t in retail.


Hubble Space Telescope

After dumping $2.5 billion into a device designed to photograph the depths of the cosmos with unwavering clarity, scientists and taxpayers let out a collective sigh of exasperation when the first images sent back to Earth in 1990 were blurry at best. Further investigation revealed that the company in charge of grinding the telescope’s seven-foot-diameter primary mirror put together the calibration instruments improperly, leaving the ‘scope in need of a pair of glasses. NASA popped on corrective lenses by 1993 to fix the problem, but somehow, the entire affair just doesn’t seem all that space-age to us.


Sidekick Data Losses

Want to store your data in the cloud? Just be prepared for it to rain once in a while – or the occasional lightning strike. In early October 2009, the Microsoft servers containing the data of thousands of T-Mobile SideKick users, including contacts, calendars and notes, went bonkers. Without proper backups to resurrect the data lost in the disaster, T-Mobile has scrambled to offer free service and gift cards as an apology to affected customers. Microsoft has worked tirelessly to dredge up the lost data as well, and claims recovery is on the way, but faith in the company – and the concept of cloud computing in general – has definitely eroded.

T Mobile Sidekick Data

Dell Laptop 4-million Battery Recall

Unlike cars, lawnmowers and chainsaws, consumers don’t typically worry about life-threatening malfunctions when they use laptops. But Dell gave them reason to in 2006 when a rash of fires sparked the recall of 4.1 million batteries – the largest of its kind in history. The batteries were blamed for blowing up a Japanese man’s computer in the middle of a conference and burning a hunter’s vintage 1966 Ford F-250 to the ground while the blaze set off ammunition inside. While the actual number of incidents was small, the bad PR for Dell, and the reach of the recall, certainly came as a painful shock.

Dell Battery

Pepsi’s “Number Fever” Bottling Fiasco

Product misspellings and other packaging misprints usually make for fun collector’s items, but in this case, they unleashed sheer havoc. When Pepsi ran its “Number Fever” promotion in the Phillipines back in 1992, the company promised one million Philippine pesos to whoever had the found the winning number, announced at the end of a day, under their bottle cap. Due to a computer glitch though, the number 349 produced thousands of winners, triggering an avalanche of Filipinos trying to collect. When Pepsi couldn’t pay up, some rioted, bombed Pepsi’s Filipino bottling plant, burned 30 trucks and turned on Pepsi execs in the country. A woman and child were even accidentally killed by a grenade tossed at a Pepsi truck. Pepsi’s legal battle over the fiasco remains to this day. Who wants to be a millionaire? Truckloads of disgruntled Big Gulp lovers, apparently.

Pepsi 349

Apollo 13

The Hubble Space Telescope may have been a multi-billion-dollar debacle for NASA, but it never killed anyone. The malfunction of Apollo 13 mission’s service module, on the other hand, came darn close. When faulty wiring triggered an explosion during a routine tank stirring, all hell broke loose and the astronauts within were forced to use their lunar module as a refuge when oxygen ran out in the service module. Although most know thanks to Ron Howard’s iconic film adaptation that they all made it back to Earth safely, the life-and-death nature of the accident and aborted moon landing still make the mission one of our nation’s worst technology debacles.


Windows Vista

Now that Windows 7 is finally upon us, it feels a little comforting to discuss Windows Vista in the past tense, as nearly everything about the operating system was a nightmare. Users had to deal with its obscene system requirements, slow boot ups and frequent crashes. Microsoft had to deal with negative initial reviews, slow adoption by consumers and businesses, and benchmarks that showed Windows XP running circles around the expensive new OS. It even had to continually lengthen the life of XP to accommodate for the legions of fans that couldn’t bear to upgrade. Fortunately, most of us can pinch ourselves and wake up now – or just switch to Mac computers instead.

Windows Vista

Asimo’s Fall

We’ll admit it: This nightmare for Honda engineers turned out to be a boon for, well, just about everyone else thanks to YouTube. The incident occurred back in 2006, when Honda was trying to show off the latest version of Asimo, its million-dollar humanoid walking robot. On stage in front of a packed auditorium, Asimo saunters up to a staircase, takes a few awkward steps up, then stalls midway as if hit by a freeze ray, teeters backward, and topples over with a sickening crack. As an injured Asimo lies in the fetal position, his frantic presenters kill the lights and scurry onto the stage to shield him from the astonished audience. Who knew that, in Japan, even robots aren’t opposed to dealing with shame via the ancient art of seppuku?


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