In the coming of the year 2000, the millennium bug, also known as the Y2K bug, has become a big concern. Most everybody has heard of this computer bug. But, do they know the aspects of it?|
The Y2K bug was caused by the shortcuts taken by computer programmers, 50 years ago (Fotheringham 64). We have failed to acknowledge the problem and now still faced with it. The question arises, what problems might the Y2K bug cause if we do no treat the problem. How are we working towards fixing this problem that could effect our lives if not treated? "Imagine making a phone call at just before midnight, only speaking for a minute and being billed for 99 years". It's frightening. However, this is an example of what could happen if your phone company is not compliant with the bug and you make a call on New Years Eve (Peterson 115).
The Y2K bug came about in the 1950s when the programmers didn't care of what could happen 50 years later. Fotheringham examines the possibility that "the world is going to shutdown because some computer genius to save space eliminated the 19 from 1999" (64). This is because most of today's computers will still be used in the year 2000 (Peterson 114). Shortcuts taken to save expensive memory in the 1960s and 1970s are the reason the Y2K bug is present (Feder). Back then, computers were programmed to register only the last two digits in a year (Peterson 113). Therefore, a computer interprets January 1, 2000 as January 1, 1900 (Fotheringham 64).
Many people are very worried about this bug. Experts say that, the public fearing the worse may run for banks for money, and hoard food and gas. They could cause fires with newly gotten wood stoves and generators. They may also cause a rise in gun violence from the surge in firearm sales to those fearing civil unrest (Feder).
Even now, before the year 2000, the bug is causing problems. Panic is just one of them. For instance, when calculating an age of someone in a database, the computer subtracts last two digits of the year from the last two digits of the date of birth (Peterson 113). Some systems have fixed this particular problem by using a 3-digit year but this won't fix the Y2K bug (Feder).
In 1992, a 104-year-old woman in Minnesota was given an invitation to go to kindergarten because school officials ran a computer search for all people born in 1988. The computer only used 88, the last two digits, so it found a woman born in 1888 to be born in 1988 (Peterson 114). This is not the only instance in which people over 100 have been getting kindergarten enrollment forms ("Y2K Frequently Asked Questions"). Most computers use a 6 or 5 digit system for putting things into chronological order. For example June 9, 1984 would be 840609, 84 as the year, 06 as the month, and 09 as the day (Peterson 114). If you use this system to find out which date came first, December 31, 1999, or Jan 3, 2000, the computer will think that Dec 31, 1999 is later than Jan 3, 2000 (115). Some systems fixed this problem temporarily by using 3 numbers for the date, but this will not be adequate for the Y2K bug (114).
The most adequate fix for the Y2K bug is called expansion. It is a reliable and permanent solution. A setback is that it requires tedious line-by-line repair of all the dates expressed in two digit years rather than four. Because of this, it's not the most widespread used method.
The most widespread used Y2K bug solution is called "windowing". It's a cheap, but short-term remedy, intended to work only for thirty years. It's been used on eighty percent of the world's computers.
"Windowing" instructs computers to guess the century for dates that fall within a window of time. In this case, it's the next three decades. For example, a computer will assume that the years 00-29 are 21st century dates. It will interpret 30-99 as 20th century dates. Some programmers buy even more time using pivot dates of 50 or even 70 (Bridis).
On fixing the bug, the problem isn't about knowing how to fix it. We know how to fix it but we have waited to long to get started ("Y2K Bug Information Center"). Tens of billions of dollars are being spent now on repairs an updates (Feder). Many companies haven't even begun to fix their systems. Others, such as the Social Security system have been working to fix their problems for years, quietly ("Y2K Bug Information Center").
In 1983, William Schoen, a Detroit programmer, stumbled upon the Y2K problem (Feder). He invented a $995 solution, and made a company to sell it, but he only made 2 sales (Feder). This shows the lack of interest the people had to fix this problem, back then.
As of October 1998, the current figures to fix Y2K in the US are $150-225 billion. Worldwide estimates are about $1-2 trillion. The US, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand are the farthest ahead on Y2K on a comparison of the world ("Y2K Frequently Asked Questions"). Government Agencies have millions of lines of code to review and repair, The US Defense Department has 1 billion lines, AT&T has 5,000,000 lines, the IRS has 100 million, big banks have more than 600 million lines (Hyatt 11).
As of now, only 44% of the nation's power utilities have completed Y2K preparedness and testing. 16% don't expect to be compliant by the 4th quarter of 1999. What's even more disturbing is that the education system is one of the industries farthest behind dealing with the Y2K bug ("Y2K Frequently Asked Questions").
If the Y2K bug is not fixed, we may experience loss of electricity, people who receive social security may stop receiving it, IRS computers may fail, and its possible banks around the world could fail (Hyatt Front Cover). Many different things could be affected (9). Much computer software is vulnerable to the bug. For example, all software that calculate mortgages or life insurance, spreadsheet software, software on aircraft, weapons systems, satellites, and software controlling telephone switching systems (Hyatt 10).
If worst comes to be, "Computer networks that control power, water and phone systems freeze, railroads, airlines and trucks are idled as dispatch and traffic systems crash, and the financial universe, from stock markets to pay roll systems to automated teller machines, go on the blank" (Feder). In January of 1998, air traffic controllers help a meeting where they simulated the year 2000 change; their screens went blank ("Y2K Frequently Asked Questions"). Some people are taking it into their own hands to prepare for the Y2K bug. There are currently over 120 community preparedness groups operating in the US ("Y2K Frequently Asked Questions"). In Spokane, Washington, organizers called for a practice day for family for the worst that might happen, but the event was a failure as few attended (Feder).
As it can be easily seen, the Y2K bug poses a big threat to the whole world. Many people are already extremely worried. There is still much to be done on fixing this problem. Hopefully, the billions and billions of dollars being spent can save us from a horrifying reality that has been described by many.
Bridis, Ted. "Widespread Y2K Isn't Permanent." MSNBC. Online. http://www.msnbc.com/news/250210.asp
Feder, Barnaby J. "Year 2000 Bug Meets People Problem: Suprisingly Early Outbreak of Panic." New York Times 9 Feb. 1999.
Fotheringham, Allan. "Behold the Y2K Bug - Revenge of Nerds and Geeks." Maclean's. 25 Jan. 1999: 64. Hyatt, Michael S. The Millenium Bug. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 1998. Peterson, Ivars. Fatal Defect. 1st Ed. New York: Random House, 1995.
Y2K Bug Information Center. Online. http://www.y2k-bug.to/
"Y2K Frequently Asked Questions." The Cassandra Project: A Grassroots Non-Profit Organization. Online. http://www.cassandraproject.org/y2kfaq.html Written May, 1999