When tech attacks! 13 grizzly tales of killer kit

Burning PC
"That's not the kind of hot kit I was after"

As anybody who's seen a Terminator movie knows, technology and humans don't always get on.

If we're not doing dumb things with technology or putting electronics in stupid places it's burning our bits and our beds - and in some cases, hardware turns out to be truly homicidal.

From the silly to the serious, we discover 13 ways technology can be downright dangerous.

1. The crashing laptop

In 2007, Californian traffic cops were called to a fatal accident. Oscar, a 29-year-old computer tutor, crashed his Honda into a Hummer with predictable consequences - and when the cops arrived on the scene, they found his laptop still running and plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. In a typical year, more than 500 Californians are charged with reckless driving after being caught using TVs, video players or computers at the wheel.

2. Burn, baby, burn

In January, Arkansas man Keith Price discovered a little problem with his Compaq Presario: it caught on fire, burning down his house and injuring his daughter, who had to leap from a second-floor window.

3. Plane Crazy

Last month, 46 passengers were seriously injured when the computers inside a Quantas Airbus A 330-300 decided to act like HAL from 2001. The plane shot up 300 feet in the air and then pitched earthwards for no reason, and according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau "the aircraft performed of its own accord". "Death to humans!" said the computer. Probably.

4. Rivers of fire

In 1999, a ruptured pipe in Washington poured nearly 250,000 gallons of petrol into local rivers. The petrol ignited, creating a river of fire that killed two ten-year-old boys and an eighteen-year-old man, and eight other people were seriously injured. After a three-year investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board found that a key cause of the accident was a mysterious computer failure that paralysed the pipeline control room, preventing engineers from opening valves to reduce pressure in the pipe. According to Wired, security experts say the victims were "the first verified human casualties of a control-system computer incident."

5. Armed and dangerous

In August, a stone company worker was seriously injured when a granite-cutting computer reset itself. According to Waco fire marshals the machine's robot arm swung round, trapping the unfortunate worker in the cutting machinery. The man is expected to make a full recovery.

6. Over exposure

Therac-25 radiotherapy machines are famous in the medical world for all the wrong reasons. In the mid-eighties, at least six cancer patients were given massive overdoses of radiation by the machines, causing three deaths; subsequent investigations discovered that the overdoses were caused by a rare but serious software malfunction. The US FDA banned all medical equipment from the Therac-25's manufacturer and brought in new rules covering medical control software, but of course that was too late to help the Therac-25's six victims.

7. Phone sex

A 20-year-old Taiwanese woman had to make an unexpected surgical appointment in 2001 when a Nokia 8850 became stuck in her back passage. Was she the victim of overzealous mobile phone sales reps? Nope: according to doctors at Taipei Medical University, she had been playing "sex games" with her boyfriend. Insert your own "vibrate mode" joke here.

8. Game over

In 2006, 37-year-old Taiwanese man Hsu Tai-yang dropped dead in a cybercafe after a marathon gaming session. Doctors say he died of heart failure caused by a combination of "fatigue, lack of sleep and inhaling the smoke-filled air." The following year, the same thing happened in China when an unnamed 30-year-old died of exhaustion after a three-day gaming binge.

9. PC kills "sweaty" man

A 20-year-old Shanghai student was killed by his overheating PC - but not by fire. According to Fox News, he didn't want to turn on the air conditioning and decided to open the PC's case instead; when "his sweaty legs came into contact with the computer's internal wiring" he was electrocuted.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.