Non-compliance of computer equipment to Year 2000 transition

Date unreliability of computer software
Millennial bug
The Y2K problem

The Year 2000 problem is a direct result of the industry wide data processing dependency on date information and the common programming practice of representing the year in a date field with only two digits. In order to save cost and space, programmers used "shorthand" for handling dates (e.g. 1997 was represented as 97) These two-digit dates exist on millions of files used as input to millions of applications. Perhaps more intractible a problem are microchips, produced as recently as 1996, which also had a time function designed into them that was only structured for this century. When the date goes from '99 to '00 both they and the legacy software that has not been fixed may think it is still the 20th century -- not 2000, but 1900.


Every major aspect of modern infrastructure has systems and equipment that rely on such calculations to perform their functions. The world's economic and political infrastructures rely on dense networks of computer systems. Whatever happens in one part of the network has an impact on other parts of the network.

There are somewhat over a billion embedded microprocessors (hardware chips or microchips) located in computer systems worldwide. They sustain the world's manufacturing and engineering base. They exist in traffic lights, elevators, water, gas, and electricity control systems. They are in medical equipment and military and navigation systems. Traffic control systems are dependent upon them. They are in the satellites that circle the earth. Global telecommunications are heavily dependent on them. Modern cars contain about two dozen microprocessors. Many of these chips aren't date sensitive, but a great number are, and engineers looking at long ago installed systems don't know for sure which is which. To complicate things further, not all chips behave the same. Recent tests have shown that two chips of the same model installed in two different computers but performing the same function are not equally sensitive to the year-end problem. One shuts down and the other doesn't.

It is impossible to locate all of these chips in the remaining months, nor can all those that are identified be replaced. Chips more than three years old are obsolete and are probably not available in the marketplace. The solution in those cases is to redesign and remanufacture that part of the system -- which often makes starting over with new equipment the best option. That is why some companies are spending millions, even hundreds of millions, to replace their entire computer systems. It at least ensures that their internal systems work.

The larger significance of this Year 2000 timebomb (often called Y2K) extends far beyond single businesses, or even entire industries. Indirect relationships extend like tentacles into many other networks, creating the potential for massive disruptions of service. A few but strategically placed failures would initiate a major economic cascade. In an interdependent system, solving most of the problem is no solution. The integration of these systems requires that we solve virtually all of them.


The computer system at a large London department store recently destroyed tons of food during the process of doing a long term forecast. The computer read 2002 as 1902. Instead of four more years of shelf life, the computer calculated that this food was ninety-six years old. It ordered it thrown out. A similar incident happened in the USA at the warehouse of a freeze dried food manufacturer.

It is not unusual for a company to have more than 100,000,000 lines of computer code. One computer-industry research group, estimates that globally, 180 billion lines of software code will have to be screened. The US Social Security Administration began working on its thirty million lines of code in 1991. After five years of work, in June, 1996, four hundred programmers had fixed only six million lines. The US Internal Revenue Service has 88,000 programs on 80 mainframe computers to debug. By the end of 1997 they had cleaned up 2,000 programs.

A firm that tracks programmer productivity, estimates that finding, fixing and testing all Y2K-affected software would require over 700,000 person-years. It projects that the total cost of dealing with Y2K worldwide will be somewhere between $300 billion to $600 billion -- and these are only direct costs associated with trying to remedy the problem. The US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimated total government Y2K expense at $3 9 billion. The OMB warned that this estimate might be as much as 90% too low considering the increasing labour shortage and expected growing remediation costs as January 1, 2000 looms nearer. In June 1998, it was announced that US federal agencies had already spent five billion dollars. Of twenty-four agencies, fifteen reported being behind schedule.

The electric power industry is in danger of massive failures because the programmable controllers -- which have replaced mechanical relays in virtually all electricity-generating plants and control rooms -- may behave badly or even freeze up when 2000 arrives. Many air traffic control centres around the world rely on mid-'80s vintage mainframe computers; flight safety relies additionally on satellites with embedded chips, individual systems in each airplane, and air traffic control systems around the globe. Lufthansa already has announced it will not fly its aircraft during the first days of 2000.

In more and more businesses, expenditures for research and development and modernization are being diverted to Y2K budgets. Business Week in March of 1998 estimated that the Year 2000 economic damage alone would be $119 billion. When potential lawsuits and secondary effects are added to this -- people suing over everything from stalled elevators to malfunctioning nuclear power plants -- the cost easily could be over $1 trillion. A recent survey of American corporate chief information officers found that 70% of them thought that their companies would not be completely prepared for Y2K. Additionally, 50% of them acknowledged that they would not fly during January 2000. One expert predicts that upward of 70% of the businesses in Asia will fail outright or experience severe hardship because of Y2K. Another has raised the probability of a deep global recession in 2000-2001 as the result of Y2K at about 70%.


1. It is difficult to interest most people in the Year 2000 problem (Y2K). There are two general categories of response. In the first category, people acknowledge the problem but view it as a narrowly-focused, bounded problem, restricted to a small number of businesses -- primarily finance and insurance -- or a limited number of consequences. The second category of reactions reveals the great collective faith in technology and science. People describe Y2K as a technical problem, and then enthusiastically state that human ingenuity and genius always finds a way to solve these type of problems.

2. The Year 2000 problems is: 1) a technological problem that cannot be solved by technology; 2) the first-ever, non-negotiable deadline; 3) a systemic crisis that no one can solve alone; 4) a crisis that transcends boundaries and hierarchies 5) an opportunity to evoke greater capacity from individuals and organizations; 6) an opportunity to simplify and redesign major systems.

3. Those who want to hush the problem ('Don't talk about it, people will panic', and 'We don't know for sure') are having three effects. First, they are preventing a more rigorous investigation of the extent of the problem. Second, they are slowing down the awareness of the intensity of the problem as currently understood and the urgency of the need for solutions, given the current assessment of the risks. Third, they are making almost certain a higher degree of ultimate panic, in anger, under conditions of shock.

4. The US Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem has stated that some state and local governments could be unprepared, including the inability to provide benefits payments. This could have a significant impact in major urban areas, resulting in the possibility for civil unrest.

5. While billions of dollars have been spent to fix computers at individual companies and organizations, there has been less focus on what will happen when these computers interact across networks. A computer that is considered "year-2000 compliant" at one company may cripple a compliant computer at another because software writers in the two organizations took different approaches to fixing the problem.

6. Thousands or millions of lives are at risk because the seriousness of the Year 2000 Technology problem has been downplayed.

7. The potential for catastrophic events at US chemical process plants, stemming from Year 2000 non-compliance, can be divided into three categories: failures in software or embedded microchips within the process plants, external Y2K-related problems (e.g., power outages), and multiple Y2K-related incidents that may strain emergency response organizations.

8. About half of 161 countries assessed by a special U.S. Senate committee will likely experience Year 2,000-related computer failures in their telecommunication, energy and transportation systems. The malfunctions could leave millions without power, drinking water and basic infrastructure, potentially leading to a worldwide recession, said the committee's report, which was released exactly 100 days prior to the New Year.


Y2K is the cruelest trick ever played on us by technology, but that it also represents a great opportunity for change. It demands that we let go of traditional boundaries and roles in the pursuit of new, streamlined systems, ones that are less complex than the entangled ones that have evolved over the past thirty years.

2. People who describe Y2K as "different in kind" from anything humanity has ever experienced, or something that is unique, tend to look at the event from the perspective of the past century. But those who look at Y2K from the perspective of the coming century, exhibit the exact opposite tendencies: they tend to describe Y2K as only "different in degree" from the sort of system perturbations humanity will increasingly face as we become more interconnected and interdependent on a global scale. In their minds, then, Y2K is a genuine harbinger of next definitions of international instabilities or uncertainty, in effect a new type of crisis that leaves us particularly uncomfortable with its lack of a clearly identifiable "enemy" or "threat" with associated motivations.

3. The more Y2K becomes associated with the broader reality of our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the more inescapable it becomes. You can avoid getting caught up in the Millennium Date Change Event and all the hoopla surrounding it, but there's no avoiding Y2K in the big-picture sense, because the skills it demands from humanity are those same skills needed for our not-so-collective advance into the brave new world of the 21st Century.

4. In-depth analysis of US Y2K compliancy on the part of various key sectors that rely on computers has determined that, despite a generally positive outlook for overall compliance, there will be problem industries and minor difficulties and inconveniences.

5. The New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory is particularly relevant to the millennium because the year 2000 is considered to be a triggering device for the NWO due to the element of computer breakdown. Conspiracy theorists believe that these major computer malfunctions will cause widespread chaos at all levels of society- economic, social and political. This chaos will create a situation in which American civilization will collapse, which will then produce an environment that the UN will exploit to forcibly take over the United States. Therefore, these militia members (as well as other groups) believe that the year 2000 will be the catalyst for the NWO.

6. The New American, an organ of the ultraconservative John Birch Society, speculates that the Y2K bug could be America's Reichstag fire, a reference to the 1933 arson attack on Germany's Parliament building that was used by Hitler as an excuse to enact police state laws.

7. Y2K has been the greatest con trick that was ever foisted upon business.

(E) Emanations of other problems