The Year 2000 Computer Problem

by John Muirhead-Gould

Last updated: 12/12/98. New email address- the one from school- Mount Union College

New: I\'ve added listings of some books that I would recommend reading about the millennium bug. Take a look at them here.

This is a term paper I did for English IV my senior year at Central Catholic High School (in Canton, Ohio). If you have any comments, feel free to email me and I would be more than happy to discuss this topic with you. Please be aware that I am not an expert in the field, however. Also, please be aware that I did not cover all of the major solutions that are available, specifically \'bit twiddling\' and reversing the system clock. For more information about these solutions, contact IBM\'s paper (see bibliography). It has come to my attention that some of the links on the bibliography have become dead. I will try to find any current urls that have these articles. Finally, I would like to note that the focus on testing a company\'s fix for Y2K is a bit short. It has come to my attention that finding and fixing bugs that were perhaps overlooked is a huge process, even more massive than how I describe it.

Spring semester is quickly coming up, and I am very low on cash for books. Any donations would be greatly appreciated. Email me for more information.

Also, I have added a page with some of the comments I have received about my paper. You can look at them here (though they haven\'t been updated in a long time).

On to the paper!

Less than two years until the year 2000. Two seemingly small digits may turn January 1, 2000 from a worldwide celebration into a universal nightmare. With computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900, virtually all businesses that use dates will be affected. Not only will the companies be affected, but they are paying millions upon millions of dollars in order for computers to recognize the difference between the years 2000 and 1900. The year 2000 computer bug is a huge problem that our world must face.

In order to explain how to solve the "millennium bug", it is a good idea to be informed about exactly what the year 2000 problem is. The year 2000 industry expert, Peter de Jager, described the problem quite well. "We programmed computers to store the date in the following format: dd/mm/yy. This only allows 2 digits for the year. January 1, 2000 would be stored as 01/01/00. But the computer will interpret this as January 1, 1900- not 2000" (de Jager 1). The \'19\' is "hard-coded" into computer hardware and software. Since there are only 2 physical spaces for the year in this date format, after \'99\', the only logical choice is to reset the number to \'00\'.

The year 2000 problem is unlike any other problem in modern history for several reasons. William Adams points out some of the most important ones. "Time is running out- the Year 2000 is inevitable! The problem will occur simultaneously worldwide, time zones withstanding. It affects all languages and platforms, hardware & software. The demand for solutions will exceed the supply. Survivors will survive big, losers will lose big. There is no \'silver bullet\' that is going to fix things" (Adams 2). "It is too big and too overwhelming even for [Bill Gates and] Microsoft" (Widder 3). Separate, any one of these points makes Y2K, a common abbreviation for the year 2000 problem, an addition to the obstacle. Combined, they form what seems more like a hideous monster than an insignificant bug.

The impact of Y2K on society is enormous, bringing the largest companies in the world to their knees, pleading for a fix at nearly any cost. "The modern world has come to depend on information as much as it has on electricity and running water. Fixing the problem is difficult because there are [less than] two years left to correct 40 years of behavior" (de Jager 1). Alan Greenspan has warned that being 99 percent ready isn\'t enough (Widder 2). Chief Economist Edward Yardeni has said that the chances for a worldwide recession to occur because of Y2K are at 40% (Widder 3). Senator Bob Benett (Republican, Utah) made a good analogy about