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The Y2K Problem
Forty years ago when the first computers and computer systems were being developed the biggest problem computer engineers and programmers faced was lack of space. The early computers were huge, filling up entire rooms instead of just desktops. The programmers also had to enter dates into the obese primitive hard drives with the year recognized with only two digits. These programmers didn’t even think about the problems these systems would have when the year two thousand rolled over and the computer dating systems registered a double zero. These early programmers thought that their systems would be technologically inferior, outdated, and replaced by the year two thousand so the Y2K problem never crossed their mind. Some computer systems that are thirty years old are still up and running with defective dating mechanisms. In addition to these ancient systems most modern systems are not Y2K compliant since the problem was only addressed in the mid 90’s.
Our technologically driven society is extremely vulnerable to Y2K induced malfunctions. Everything from power plants, air traffic control systems, banks, and even coffee makers could fail. Luckily in the U.S. the government and business community have spent billions of dollars and hired thousands of programmers to alleviate the problem here at home. In Europe and Asia the problem has not been properly addressed as it has been in the United States. This could cause a global economic meltdown.
Many believe that Y2K will cause a global meltdown and are stocking up on solar panels, water purifiers, dehydrated foods, and even guns and ammunition. Housing developers have planned developing Y2K compliant communities complete with windmills, generators, and the potential to grow their own food. (2000 acreage--site unseen 4D). Y2K probably will not send us back into an archaic stone age. The biggest problem we face with Y2K will be it’s price tag. Billions have already been spent. In the unlikely event banking systems break down, the Federal Reserve is prepared to put fifty billion dollars into circulation “just in case people want a couple of dollars...” (We shouldn’t be left in the dark 4A). If the European and Asian markets expierence Y2K meltdowns invariably the United States will have to intervene. The cost of these bailouts could escalate into the trillions. The biggest cost here at home will come in the form of litigation expenses. Insurance companies have already begun to mail letters to policyholders who carry homeowners insurance, warning that if their homes or anything in them suffers damage as a result of the Y2K problem, the policy holders won’t recieve any compensation for their losses. On New Year’s Day personal computers, VCRs, electronic thermostats, and burgular and fire alarm systems all might not work if the appliances have internal calenders that keep track of the year. Of course this could result in fire losses because of malfunctioning sprinkler systems or your pipes bursting when your heater fails. If these homeowners decide to take their insurers to court after the new year because of losses they suffer there’s a good chance they may win, even if their carrier previously issued a clarification of the policy holders coverage.(Y2K kills Mr. Coffee! Who should pay? 73). The damage payments awarded to the policyholders, and ultimatly their trial lawyers, by the courts could bankrupt some insurance companies. This, of course, would end up costing policyholders millions or maybe even billions of dollars in lost assets simply because the insurance companies can not pay for all of them.
The Y2K problem is one of the biggest challenges business as a whole has ever faced. Companies and corporations have already spent billions of dollars to cure the bug. The federal government has also spent billions and may be sufficently prepared, but many state and local governments have spent nothing and could be totally caught of gaurd. The state of Alabama hasn’t spent a red cent on Y2K.
In the end, we won’t know anything for sure untill next January. Y2K could be apocoliptic or a flash in the pan. No one knows yet but we will all know when it affects us.
Weise, Elizabeth. “2000 acreage--sight unseen” and “We shouldn’t be left in the dark”. USA Today. January 27, 1999. 4D.
Morrow, James. “Y2K kills Mr.
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Software bugs, COBOL, Hazards, Year 2000 problem, Y2K, Insurance, Economy
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