What's new

Written in the 90s: The Commercial Impact of Y2k

  • Thread starter admin
  • Start date
  • This thread has been viewed 522 times.

:ChesterCheetah: This E-Zine was written around 1990s about the Y2K Bug :ChesterCheetah:
Mean Girls 90S GIF by Great Big Story

During the infancy of full scale commercial and government computer use, there was a premium placed on storage space. Because the then modern technology necessitated that all data be as compacted as possible all shortcuts were used to achieve acceptable program sizes. One of these shortcuts was the reduction of a year into a two-digit number, for example "1976" would simply be known as "76" in the program. Because most of the programmers assumed that their programs would eventually be replaced, they ignored the problem of the year 2000. Without any alteration of one of the older programs, the year 2000 would be interpreted as 1900 (the prefix of "19" would be understood).

Unfortunately the programmers of old never could have known that their programs would continue to be used by companies (and governments) unwilling to make necessary upgrades of the programs. And so the world is left in grip of this dilemma known by many names but most often known as the Millenium Bug or Y2K.

First to grasp the immensity of the disaster, one can examine an event that parallels Y2K. During the reign of El Nino, Canada experienced massive ice storms. These storms were not predicted and the intensity was great. Power, water, and gas were knocked out. All activities were dropped and the race for survival began. Efforts loosely formed to provide the necessities, thus reducing economic transaction. Costs for the whole incident totaled into the billions for a relatively small crisis (1). Y2K is similar to this event in that it is nearly unknown to most and when it hits it will be devastating without preparation. If the residents of Canada knew of the approaching storms they would have had sufficient time prepare.

There would have been adjustments to the flow of business transactions to allow for missed days. In the case of Y2K, only a portion of businesses and government organizations have fixed their Y2K problem. But, there cannot be a total solution because our current method of function, whether it be business or governing, requires more than one individual party.

The Social Security Agency has corrected their own Y2K conflicts, but they are useless since the U.S. Treasury, which issues the Social Security checks, is not prepared. In the case of public utilities there is also concern. Almost 25% of the country's electricity is nuclear power. If there were to be a shutdown in the safety systems Chernobyl would look quite tame compared to the possible disaster. Fortunately, the nuclear power safety systems were the first to be fixed. On the flip side, only the safety systems were fixed, leaving the actual equipment vulnerable to shutdown. This shutdown could have disastrous effects. The method power is distributed is that all the power companies share the same power grids. Each grid relies on the others surrounding it. If one fails then the surrounding grids compensate by increasing their power.

The system is successful only when a few grids fail. If a large collection of grids were to fail then those surrounding them would experience such a power drain that they would shutdown, thus a "snowballing" effect ensues. As far as air travel is concerned, the FAA has announced that they are now Y2K compliant. Telephone systems also say they are prepared but there will be some delays in phone services.

The economics of Y2K are global. For the developing nations, which often provide for the industrial need of raw material, solutions are not readily available and they will certainly fall into various degrees of chaos.

This chaos will cause concern with high-risk investors who had invested in the developing nation's economy. Most of these high-risk takers are relatively young and are inexperienced in handling trouble situations because they have been lulled into a false sense of security due to the current economy. Without considering the long-term effects, they will sell their investments to minimize their losses. The experienced will capitalize on the panic by buying the flood of cheap investments, placing themselves in comfortable position for the future. Since there will be a vacuum if power, it will take years to equalize the spread of money.

Notice that the hub of world trade, Wall Street, is not crippled. With so many companies at stake, the stock exchanges were the first to repair the Y2K problem. Even though many companies have succeeded in their preparations, many are not. Most corporations that have not sufficiently prepared are reliant upon either their own IT (Information Technology) personnel or contracted companies. The management is usually so misinformed or uneducated in current technologies that even if they do allot funds to repair Y2K incompatibilities, they will usually be too little and too late.

Assuming that there is a functional court system after 2000, there would a flood of lawsuits. These lawsuits would compound the damage exponentially and further the downward spiral of functional economic practice. The main argument from the plaintiffs would be that they were misinformed and/or that the repair was not satisfactory to meet contract requirements.

The enormous fees would cripple many companies into oblivion and mega-corporations of sci-fi proportions would rise. Even the most technically advanced countries like Japan have not set up a sufficient plan. So concerned was the Asian community that Australia offered use of their own stock exchange facilities so that trade would continue in this vital part of the globe (3).Social implications are unavoidable. There are many web sites devoted to the "Y2K Reformation". Simply put, these individuals believe that Y2K is human kind's fate.

Y2K will wipe away all old ideas of thought and foster a rethinking of social and technological dogma, so they say. There is doubt that society will be changed that dramatically, but there will be the nagging thought in the back of everyone's mind about how close they really were to a total collapse of civilization due to the absence of two digits.

What solutions are out there to fix this manmade doomsday? There are many but they can be narrowed down to two categories: patches and replacements. A patch is a temporary fix until a more permanent solution can be found.

The irony is that the whole Y2K problem was in itself a patch. One method called "windowing" would add a few lines of code to tell the computer to "re-assume" that two digit numbers representing dates under, let's say 50, actually have a "20" as a prefix and numbers over 50 would have the prefix "19". Hopefully this patch would hold the world's computers until the total replacement of all "legacy" mainframes could be achieved. Another patch is setting all computers to the year 1972. Why? The year 1972 matches the year 2000 exactly. This patch would allow for a little more time for programmers to squeeze in that last bit of fix before the patch busts (2).
homer simpson 3d GIF by Miriam Ganser

As far as actual fixes are concerned, there is only one true way. There must be a total replacement of all non-compliant hardware and software. Since the storage issue is practically nonexistent in today's systems, the new systems replacing the aging systems would have a full four-digit designation for each year. The costs for any of the above methods are all into the millions and sometimes billions. Though the Y2K problem is defined as a problem, many often miss the "silver lining". Y2K forces the whole world to join together to prevent total collapse. Congress recently approved a measure that would make it easier for different companies to share information on how to combat the problem. Many of the older systems will be replaced by newer and more efficient ones, which in turn would make total, world integration possible. After the initial cost of the modernization, there will actually be a decrease in the cost of production. Even more emphasis on education will occur to prevent future Y2K's.

In conclusion, the cost of fixing the "bug" will be well into the billions and there is no way of avoiding the impact of it on the economy. Y2K has created a whole industry overnight and it has brought awareness about how vulnerable our society is. If the world would look at the Y2K problem as an opportunity instead of problem then there would be a redefinition of thought on the interconnections in the global economy. With the necessary modernization of all machines, there is a certain "baptism by fire" as in a total sweep of the old and flooding in of the new.

There will be problems, but ultimately the world will become a much smaller place as the result of Y2K.

Works Cited
(1) Year2000.Com. www.year2000.com/archive/collab.html
(2) Popular Science. Year 2000 Problem. October, 1998. Pages 88-93
(3) Wired Online. Australians to the Rescue in 2000.

Similar threads

Containment Chat
Help Users
    (Guest) wild: hola