Year 2000 Bug

The Millennial sun will first rise over human civilization in the independent
republic of Kiribati, a group of some thirty low lying coral islands in the

Pacific Ocean that straddle the equator and the International Date Line, halfway
between Hawaii and Australia. This long awaited sunrise marks the dawn of the
year 2000, and quite possibly, the onset of unheralded disruptions in life as we
know it in many parts of the globe. Kiribati’s 81,000 Micronesians may observe
nothing different about this dawn; they only received TV in 1989. However, for
those who live in a world that relies on satellites, air, rail and ground
transportation, manufacturing plants, electricity, heat, telephones, or TV, when
the calendar clicks from ’99 to ’00, we will experience a true millennial
shift. As the sun moves westward on January 1, 2000, as the date shifts silently
within millions of computerized systems, we will begin to experience our
computer-dependent world in an entirely new way. We will finally see the extent
of the networked and interdependent processes we have created. At the stroke of
midnight, the new millennium heralds the greatest challenge to modern society
that we have yet to face as a planetary community. I am describing the year 2000
problem, known as Y2K (K signifying 1000.) Nicknamed at first "The

Millennial Bug," increasing sensitivity to the magnitude of the impending
crisis has escalated it to "The Millennial Bomb." The problem begins
as a simple technical error. Large mainframe computers more than ten years old
were not programmed to handle a four digit year. Sitting here now, on the
threshold of the year 2000, it seems incomprehensible that computer programmers
and microchip designers didn\'t plan for it. But when these billions of lines of
computer code were being written, computer memory was very expensive. Remember
when a computer only had 16 kilobytes of RAM? To save storage space, most
programmers allocated only two digits to a year. 1993 is ‘93’ in data files,

1917 is ’17.’ These two-digit dates exist on millions of files used as input
to millions of applications. Programmers did whatever was required to get a
product up and working; no one even thought about standards. The same thing
happened in the production of microchips as recently as three years ago.

Microprocessors and other integrated circuits are often just sophisticated
calculators that count and do math. They count many things: fractions of
seconds, days, inches, pounds, degrees, lumens, etc. Many chips that had a time
function designed into them were only structured for this century. And when the
date goes from \'99 to \'00 both they and the legacy software that has not been
fixed will think it is still the 20th century -- not 2000, but 1900 Y2K Date
calculations affect far more millions of systems than those that deal with
inventories, interest rates, or insurance policies. Every major aspect of our
modern infrastructure has systems and equipment that rely on such calculations
to perform their functions. We are dependent on computerized systems that
contain date functions to effectively manage defense, transportation, power
generation, manufacturing, telecommunications, finance, government, education,
healthcare, and more. The list is longer, but the picture is pretty clear. We
have created a world whose efficient functioning in all but the poorest and
remotest areas is dependent on computers. It doesn’t matter whether you
personally use a computer, or that most people around the world don’t even
have telephones. The world’s economic and political infrastructures rely on
computers. And not isolated computers. We have created dense networks of
reliance around the globe. We are networked together for economic and political
purposes. Whatever happens in one part of the network has an impact on other
parts of the network. We have created not only a computer-dependent society,
but, also an interdependent planet. We already have had frequent experiences
with how fragile these systems are, how failure\'s cascade through a networked
system. While each of these systems relies on millions of lines of code that
detail the required processing, they handle their routines in serial fashion.

Any next step depends on the preceding step. This serial nature makes systems,
no matter their size, vulnerable to even the slightest problem anywhere in the
system. In 1990, ATT’s long distance system experienced repeated failures. At
that time, it took two million lines of computer code to keep the system
operational. But just three lines of faulty code brought down these millions of
lines of code. (6) And these systems are lean; redundancies are eliminated in
the name of efficiency. This leanness also makes the system highly vulnerable.

In May of this year, 90% of