This morning while I was having an uncomfortable annual preventative exam, the technician apologized for something taking so long and said the computer was slow today. I asked "you got the patch for the Intel thing?" and she gave me a blank look; she hadn't heard of the Meltdown/Spectre problem. I gave her a super-high-level summary and suggested what she could Google for later.
She asked me how much things would slow down and I said it's hard to tell -- could be 5%, could be 30%, could be worse -- depends on lots of things. She got a look of horror on her face and said "if it's that bad, we're going to have to change how we schedule appointments!".
Wow. That kind of effect had not occurred to me. I mean, there are computers with affected chips in everything these days -- medical equipment, air-traffic-control systems, sensor networks, self-driving cars... I presume that many of those systems will have to get patched, and that hardware replacements are big productions that won't happen until current systems reach the end-of-life mark, and that the consequences of slower execution could matter in some of those use cases. (Car: "stop at that red light... oh, that was back there".) Even if it's "just" diagnostic scans taking longer, what happens, logically and financially, when providers can see fewer patients per day?
I asked if the machine she was currently using was networked. It's on the facility's network only, as I expected. I said that perhaps their IT people will opt for securing the network and not applying the patch, but to myself I wondered if that opens them to liability claims or regulatory problems. It's also possible that some of these machines are specialized enough that they don't have the affected chips. I know next to nothing about embedded systems, specialized equipment like mammogram scanners, and so on.
I assume that in time this problem will be dealt with or worked around. I've already seen recommendations suggesting which patches to take and which to disable to walk that balance between reduced effects and security. I'm not trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom here. I just wonder how some of the bumps along the way will manifest.