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Beware the year 2000!

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 of chaos!


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 The computers thought the tins were 99 years out of date!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.

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. a bad dream
b. state of total confusion and lack of order
c. extremely
d. great danger
e. well-known
f. possible when the necessary conditions exist
g. not in use any more because something newer has replaced it



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