Recently there has been a lot of discussion about Y2K,
or the millennium bug as it is known. Many people know that
the bug could be disastrous, but they do not know why it
cannot be fixed in time, or how it could have been
prevented. Because of the bug and its origin, society will
be affected in many areas, but the areas it will affect the
most are health, utilities, government, and business.
When programmers make programs they use dates several
times in the lines of the program. To save time, most
programmers would use only the last two numbers of the year
in the program. For example, they would use “99” instead of
using 1999. Therefore, when the year 2000 comes the date
that computer chips will read will be “00”, or 1900, when it
should actually read 2000.
In order to fix the program a programmer would have to
go through every line of programming and put a “19” in front
of the last two numbers of the year so that the program
would read the change in the millennium as 2000 instead of
“00”. This does not sound to be a difficult task at first,
but what most people do not understand is that a single
program can contain millions of lines of code in which the
date would appear in approximately every fifty lines of
code! To add to the task, most of the programs that will be
affected were written in a language called COBOL. This
language is very complex and undocumented (Vistica et al.
54). If even one date is accidentally missed in fixing the
program, the entire system will still fail because one wrong
date could contaminate the rest of the system (Devine n.p.).
This is the only way there is to fix the problem at the
present time though. The only problem with this method is
that before all programs can be fixed, the year 2000 will be
here. A couple extra years of time would have made a huge
difference in the preparation of the millennium bug.
Some people think that the bug will have a huge effect
on society, while others say the effects will be minute.
In the millennium bug, we have developed a
technological equivalent to natural forces. If
it is anywhere, it is everywhere. Nowhere at any
time in human history has there existed such a
problem. (Zuckerman n.p.)
Anything that has a computer chip in it could have some
problems (Reuters n.p.).
With all the problems arising at the present time,
people look to how it could have been prevented. The most
obvious way it could have been prevented is that programmers
should have typed the whole date in instead of just typing
the last two digits of the date. What most people do not
know however, is that we knew about this problem almost
fifteen years ago. In 1984 Paul Schoon uncovered the
problem, but nobody listened. He had his theory published
in magazines but programmers refused to deal with it at the
time (Devine n.p.). If people would have listened to him in
1984, there would have been plenty of time to fix the
glitch. Now people are wishing that they would have
listened because of the drastic effects that are being
uncovered in many areas of society.
The medical field will be affected in many ways. There
could be several computer mix-ups in hospitals due to the
bug. These computer glitches could have serious effects on
almost all equipment being used in hospitals(Reuters n.p.).
However, some newer equipment being used in hospitals has
been made compliant with the millennium bug. A recent
survey found that 73 percent of the nations manufacturers of
biomedical equipment had performed tests on their devices.
Of the 73 percent that had performed tests, 47 percent said
that their devices would not suffer effects of the
millennium bug (Ante n.p.) Hospitals do not have the time
or the money to update all of their equipment in time
though. Medical equipment may not stop working, but data
readouts will be affected. These readouts provide doctors
with vital information about the patient’s status (Vistica
et al. 56). Without these readouts doctors will be lost and
confused.
Obviously doctors will not be the only ones who will
see the consequences of the bug as stated by Ackerman:
The problem extends far beyond hospital wards.
Many patients, such as diabetics, self-medicate
using computerized equipment at home, he said,
while other types of institutions, including
nursing homes, are increasingly reliant on
high-tech monitors and drug delivery
systems.(Vistica et al. n.p.)
Patients who need radiation treatments may be affected at a
high level.