The Year 2000 problem ... is going to have implications in the world ...
that we can't even comprehend. ... If we built houses the way we build
software, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization.
— U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre, in testimony before the
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, June, 1998.
Sometimes called the Year 2000 problem or the "millennium bug",
the Y2K problem results from the longstanding practice of writing computer
programs to store and handle only the last two digits of the year, assuming the
first two would always be "19". But as we approach the year 2000,
people are beginning to realize what programmers have been trying to tell them
for more than three decades, that such programs are going to fail when people
try to enter or calculate dates beyond Jan. 1, 2000. In most cases entering a
year of "00" will be interpreted by the program as "1900",
and create an exception.
The problem is mainly on old mainframe systems, and mainly in programs
written in COBOL and RPG, which no one expected would still be in use for as
long as they have been. The difficulty of the problem arises because of all the
nonstandard ways programmers have represented date data, depriving us of easy
ways to identify where all the dates are stored or processed. In most cases
there is no alternative but to visually scan millions of lines of source code,
and on many systems, the source code is missing.
What this will mean is that a lot of computer programs on which our economy
depends will fail to work properly, or even to work at all. Banks may become
unable to process checks or transfer funds. Governments may become unable to
issue benefits or refunds. Power grids may fail, and interrupt all the services
that depend on them, including water supplies. All kinds of devices with
embedded processors may fail, such as elevators, printers, and navigation
satellites. Most experts now acknowledge that it is too late to fix all the
problems in time, and that it may take years to fix all the problems after they
begin to appear, so we can expect difficulties that will adversely affect the
economy and perhaps put the world into a deep depression.
This page is devoted to the political, economic, and social issues involved
with the Y2K problem. There is another page devoted to the technical issues at
http://www.crl.com/~jdr/y2k/y2k.htm that we can recommend.
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Y2K Plan B Missing
Testimony of Jon Roland before the Oversight Hearing on
Y2K Preparedness of the California Legislature, February 24, 1999
Megiddo — Report of FBI analysis and recommendations for response
to possible disorders