Y2k Computer Problem

Y2k Computer Problem The year 2000 is just around the corner. As some people look forward to a new and brighter millenium, others prophesize about the Second Coming, or the apocalypse. While these prophecies may be ignored by many, they might not be too far off base. The year 2000 may not bring an end to the physical world; however, it may cause great havoc to the world’s computing industry. The year 2000 problem (or “Y2K” as it is often referred to) is not really a bug or virus, but is a computer industry mistake.

Personal computers (PCs), mainframes, and software are not designed or programmed to compute a future year ending in double zeros (“00”). This is going to be a costly “fix” for the industry to absorb. In fact, Mike Elgan, editor of Windows Magazine, says, . . .

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the problem could cost businesses a total of $600 billion to remedy(Experts Elgan). Y2K has become a two-part problem. One is the inability of the computer to adapt to the MM/DD/YY issue, while the second problem is the unwillingness of many people to see the impact it will have. Most IS (information system) specialists are either unconcerned or unprepared. In order to fix the year 2000 computer problem and its impact, one must fully understand what this problem is. Back in the 1960’s, programmers decided to store the year of dates as two digits instead of four in order to save much needed space and cut costs. So the year “1998” would be stored as “98” and “2000” will be stored as “00.” These two-digit dates will be on millions of files used as input for millions of applications.

This two-digit date affects data manipulation, mainly subtractions and comparisons (Doomsday Jager). For instance, Joe was born in 1957. If the computer was asked to calculate how old Joe is today, it subtracts 57 from 98 and reports that he is 41. This calculation is correct. In the year 2000 however, the computer will subtract 57 from 00 and say that he is -57 years old. Many owners of home computers feel this “bug” won’t affect their personal computer but it’s expected that up to 80% of all personal PC’s will fail when the year 2000 arrives.

More than 80,000,000 PC’s will be shut down December 31, 1999 with no problems as workers leave their office for the weekend. However, on January 1, 2000, some 80,000,000 PCs will fail as systems are turned on and “booted up” (Believe Jager). Fixing the problem seems to be difficult a difficult task, as all applications from spreadsheets to email will be affected. Should an individual replace his current computer with one that is Year 2000 compatible or simply replace the RTC (Real Time Clock), the BIOS, or the OS? Even if the hardware problem is fixed is all the software used may not be adequate to make the transition. The answers to these questions and others like these cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For one thing, the “leading experts” in the computer world cannot agree that there is even a problem, let alone discuss the extent to which it will impact society and the business world.

CNN correspondent Jed Duvall illustrates another possible “problem” scenario. Suppose someone on the East Coast, at 2 minutes after midnight in New York City on January 1, 2000 decides to make a call to a friend in California, where it is still 1999 because of the time zone difference. With the current configurations in the phone company’s computers, the New Yorker will be billed from ’00 to ’99, a phone call lasting for 99 years (Duvall). Say a deposit of $100 was made into a savings account that pays 5% interest annually. The following year the depositor decides to close the account. The bank computer figures the $100 was there for one year at 5% interest, yielding $105, simple enough.

What happens though, if the money is not withdrawn before the year 2000? The computer will re-do the calculation exactly the same way. The money was in the bank from ’95 to ’00. That’s ’00 minus ’95, which equals a negative 95 (-95). That’s -95 years at 5% interest. That is a little bit more than $10,000, and because of the minus sign, it is going to subtract that amount from the account.

The depositor now owes the bank $9,900. No industry is immune to this problem; it is a cross-platform problem. This is a problem that will affect personal computers, minicomputers, and mainframe computers. A system that is devised to cut an annual federal deficit to “0” by the year 2002 is already in hot water. Data entered into the program will be miscalculated, resulting in inaccurate numbers as they just won’t add up.” Public health information and surveillance at all levels of local, state, federal, and international public health, which are dependent upon dates for epidemiological (study of disease occurrence, location, and duration) and health statistics reasons, are also targets of Y2K.

Since date of events, duration between events, and other calculations such as age of people are core epidemiological and health statistic requirements, this field may suffer great damage (Seligman). In addition to this, public health authorities are usually dependent upon the primary data providers such as physician practices, laboratories, hospitals, managed care organizations, and outpatient centers etc., as the source for original data upon which public health decisions are based. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for example, maintains over 100 public health surveillance systems all of which are dependent upon external sources of data (Issa). This basically means that it is not going to be sufficient to make the internal systems compliant to the year 2000 in order to address all of the details of this issue. Consider the following scenario: in April, 2000, a hospital sends an electronic surveillance record to the local or state health department reporting the death of an individual who was born in the year 00; is this going to be a case of infant mortality or death from old age? Contraire to many beliefs, there are no quick fixes or what everyone refers to as the Silver Bullet. The Silver Bullet is the terminology used to represent the creation of an automatic fix for the Y2K problem.

There are two major problems with this theory. First, there are too many variations from hardware to software of different types to think that a “fix all” solution can be found. Tools such as clock simulators can run a system with a simulated clock date and can use applications that append or produce errors when the year 2000 arrives; while date finders search across applications on specific date criteria, and browsers can help users perform large volume code inspection. However, as good as all these automated tools are, there are no Silver Bullets or quick fixes. It will take old-fashioned work hours by personnel in order to make this transition smooth and efficient.

Second, the general population, by thinking that there is such a fix or that one can be created rather quickly and easily, is creating situations where people are putting off addressing the problem due to the reliance of the “cure-all”. The “sure someone will fix it” type attitude fills the industry and the population, making this problem more serious than it already is (Believe Jager). People actually think that a program will start running on Friday night and fix the Y2K problem by the time Monday morning comes around. Nobody has to do anything else, the problem poses no more threat, and it has been solved. To quote Peter Jager, who is recognized internationally a …