Millennium

Bug

If you havenít heard of the year 2000 problem (also known as Y2K or the
millennium bug), you soon will. To save space, many computer programs and chips
use two digits to designate the year. On 1 January 2000, the year date will be

"00", causing some computers to set dates back to 1900, and others to shut
down or enter an emergency state. No one really knows for sure what impact the
millennium bug will have, but that hasnít stopped people from speculating on
the potential for disaster. Scenarios range from the bizarre (telephone calls
made over New Yearís Eve 1999 being billed as lasting a hundred years) to the
horrifying (nuclear-power plants exploding and planes falling out of the sky).

In Christian theology, the millennium is the 1,000-year period in which Christ
will return and set up his kingdom on earth. Although expectations of the Second

Coming in the year 1000 were not fulfilled, a number of religious sects have
continued to predict it. Jehovahís Witnesses, for example, saw the First World

War as a sign that Christ would soon be with us, and they stated that"millions now living will never die". Whether motivated by religious or
secular concerns, many people believe that the coming of the millennium will
change our world for better or worse. The rise of the Internet has provided a
new medium for the spread of such beliefs, especially those of an apocalyptic
nature. The Net is filled with sites warning that Y2K will mean "the end of
the world as we know it" (shortened to TEOTWAWKI). Some of the more wild-eyed
radicals believe that Y2K is a diabolical invention of the American government.

This summer, anti-government militias held a "Prepardness Expo", where they
sold survival gear and warned that the millennium bug could be a way for the
government to reduce personal freedom. That being the case, the safest place to
be, the survivalists say, is in a cabin in the woods, complete with dehydrated
food, bottled water, a petrol-powered generator and a wood stove. Others,
perhaps more plausibly, feel that the year 2000 problem has been greatly
exaggerated by computer-industry consultants who want to make a lot of money
fixing it. In Britain, for example, Computing magazine reported that consultants
are charging widely varying rates for government-sponsored training programmes
aimed at helping small businesses. Identical courses can cost anything from
Ä130 to Ä500 a day and run from the one to ten days. The cost of fixing the
problem in the US and Europe alone could be over $850 billion. Certainly, there
is no shortage of work for computer programmers and other specialists in
information technology. Because US universities and technical schools are not
producing enough computer-science graduates to deal with the problem, the number
of qualified foreign experts who have been given visas has increased
dramatically. Large companies are bringing in programmers from countries like

India, China and Russia. Russian programmers, especially, have an advantage in
the new market, because they are skilled in older programming languages such as

FORTRAN and COBOL; which are most likely to cause problems in the new
millennium. COBOL programmers, many of whom retired years ago rather than learn
new programming languages, could suddenly find their skills in demand and
companies willing to pay them enormous salaries. With the dead line now only a
year away, reactions to the Y2K problem vary from panic to denial. There are
those who, like astronomers Clifford Stoll, author of the book "Silicon Snake

Oil", believe Y2K can be fixed in a long weekend. The panic side seems to be
getting more publicity, perhaps because alarmism is more attractive than reason.

The Global Millennium Foundationís Internet site, for example, warns of likely
shortages of food and water and suggests that concerned parents may want to
avoid conceiving a child in 1999 for fear of being unable to feed it. Perhaps
the biggest name in year 2000 awareness is Canadian Peter de Jager, who was one
of the first to take the problem seriously. In a 1993 article called "Doomsday

2000" for The Computer World magazine, de Jager warned that "our information
systems are based on a faulty standard that will cost the worldwide computer
community billions of dollars in programming effort. We and our computers were
supposed to make life easier; this was our promise. What we have delivered is a
catastrophe." In 1996, de Jager, who is a special adviser on Y2K to several
governments, appeared before the US House of Representatives to discuss the
problem. In his presentation, de Jager described computer programmers as "the
most optimistic people in the