As the year 2000 approaches, many people are preparing to celebrate. Millennium parties
have already been arranged far in advance. However, the long-awaited date could
also bring less pleasant consequences. In fact, it looks like there will be a lot
As people prepare to celebrate the stroke of midnight on 1 January, 2000, most of
them are unaware of the potential nightmare that is threatened. Some technological
experts predict that the change of date could result in the failure of computers,
causing unlimited chaos to our computerised world. This is because many computer
clocks work on the basis of two digits for the year (and automatically add 19 in
front of the year) so that 01.01.00 would become 1.1.1900. Computers will think
it is the year 1900 or they may shut down completely.
If this were to happen, all areas of business and government would be affected.
It is, therefore, vitally important that governments and companies should take action
as soon as possible. Some executives have been accused of not taking the potential
problem seriously enough. The Chief Advisor to the British government has warned
that companies ignoring this peril may not even survive. Some people refuse to take
it seriously and cannot imagine that this could possibly happen. However, computer
experts at a leading British bank have recently demonstrated to their board of directors
that their computers would not recognise dates after the year 2000. It was then
possible for the board to imagine the effect that this would have on business.
Return to paper!
One prominent service industry discovered that their computers would not accept
5-year supply contracts ending in 2001. Computers registered this date as 1901.
The company consequently switched off all its computer terminals and used a more
traditional method - paper - instead! Another company selling food found that its
computers were advising the destruction of some tinned food with an expiry date
in the next century. The computers thought the tins were 99 years out of date!
The sooner, the better!
Companies which took action about this potential chaos some years ago will be in
a much better position than the ones who have ignored it. It will have cost them
far less to sort it out than it will for those companies which leave it till later.
Although computer companies themselves have known about this problem for more than
20 years, most of them have taken very little action. The cause of the problem was
the attempt by early computer programmers to save memory space by having only two
digits for the year, rather than four. They did not imagine that some of the computers
being introduced in the 1970's and 1980's would still be in use in the year 2000.
Many of these computers are still in use, however, and some companies use very large
old central computers which practically run their business.
Can the problem be solved?
Experts say that the solution to what is obviously a simple problem is also simple.
Programmers just need to give the computer instructions to change two digits to
four. This is not, however, as simple as it sounds. The lines of code that need
to be read and checked can be very complicated and take hours to read. Some code
is also in out-dated computer languages. Time and cost could be enormous. American
researchers have estimated that it could cost over 600 billion dollars to correct
the problem all over the world. Some computer software manufacturers are being threatened
with legal action by companies that claim they were sold faulty programs that will
soon become obsolete. Companies have been advised to ask their Information Technology
Managers to start investigating the extent of the problem and its possible effect
on company business and, if necessary, to take action as soon as possible.
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