The Y2k Millenium Bug Essay, Research Paper
In the past, when people think of the end of the world, they thought it would be caused by a flood, a big storm, or an meteoroid crashing into the earth. But in today’s society, peoples perceptions as to how the world will end has shifted. Many people are using the Y2K Bug as a factor that may end the world or seriously disrupt our lives. We have all heard the terms “Y2K Bug” (Y2K is an acronym for Year 2000, and K is the scientific shorthand for 1000) or “Millennium Bug/Problem” and although most of the world is aware and fearful of this problem, there are many who are unfamiliar with it and its effects. In the early 1950’s and 1960’s, buying computer memory was extremely expensive, about $1 per byte. In order to reduce expenses and the time of processing, program shortcuts were made where years are displayed using a two digit number field rather than four. In simpler terms, 1999 would show as 99. Because computers only have a two digit number field, computers will recognize 2000 as 00, which will interpret it as the year 1900. This is a problem for many reasons; first, any data that is stored into an applications program will be wrong. For example, if someone had to pay a bill in the year 2050, the computer will interpret the date as 1950, therefore making the information to be erroneous. Another problem with the Y2K Bug is the “Leap Year Bug”. This refers to the fact that 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 is. Also, there is a “Year 2000 Day of the Week Bug” where, for example, January 1, 1900 was a Monday and January 1, 2000 is a Saturday. Other effects of the flaw are unpredictable. There is speculation that not only will computers give incorrect data, but computers may malfunction or may even shut off completely. The Y2K problem affects two general classes of equipments. The first class consists of business systems and mainframe systems. These computers perform data-intensive calculations- balancing accounts, making payments, tracking inventory, etc. The second class of equipment are embedded chips, also known as embedded processors and embedded control systems. These include automatic teller machines, toll collection systems, manufacturing process controllers, military systems, medical devices and telecommunications. Y2K problems have the potential to affect public safety and health if not dealt with. Most problems have been detected in medical treatment devices, water and electricity distribution and control systems, airport runway lighting and building security systems. Appliances will not be affected by this bug, but electronics, such as fax machines and VCR’s, might. There are many possible solutions to the Y2K Bug: the two-digit fields can be found and replaced with four-digit ones (date-data expansion); software programs can be “windowed” to recognize incoming years in a range, say, between 0 and 40 as being in the 21st century; New software programs can be written to replace “legacy” programs that may be too difficult to fix; binary dates can be encoded; years can be shifted using the 28-year cycle of the calendar.
The problem is there is not enough time to fix and test all the systems, with billions of lines of software code around the world, that need to be fixed. Many businesses, governments, and organizations have become aware of the Year 2000 Problem only recently and may simply run out of time. Also, many have different implementation times and some may not be as reliable. Testing is much more time-consuming than repairing non-compliant code. This might not be a problem for some stand-alone systems. However, the majority of software programs are part of a bigger corporate, industrial, national, and even global network. They often depend on input information generated by other programs. They must all remain compatible as they are fixed. A problem in one system could trigger a Domino Effect, which poses a great risk to all who fail to test whether their local compliant system is compatible with their global network. The networks that must function perfectly–at the risk of partial and even total failure–include: electrical power systems, telecommunications, transportation, manufacturing, retail and wholesale distribution, finance and banking, government services and administration (including taxation),military defense, and international trade. Many people worry about the Y2K Bug and often question what the government is doing about it. The federal government has put together a Department of National Defence (DND) to provide help to civil authorities. The four objectives of this group are to ensure that: there is no loss of life; basic community needs are provided for; businesses continue as usual or resume quickly; and confidence in the government is maintained. There are also government groups in each province to assist with the Y2K problem. The Committee sees two problems that Canadians could inadvertently create in anticipating Year 2000 problems on January 1, 2000. Electrical utilities produce electricity in amounts based on historical and anticipated demands. If Canadians change their electrical consumption patterns on December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000, for example by turning off their lights, then electrical utilities would have to “dump” the resulting surplus power, and depending on the magnitude, creating the very problem the utilities were trying to avoid. A second problem deals with telephones. There have been overload protection measures designed to protect 911 and other key services could be initiated if everyone tries their phone to see if it works on January 1, 2000. This potential problem must be acknowledged and understood that this is not a failure of the phone system. We live in a technology-dependent society where products and services are constantly being upgraded to provide us with luxurious lifestyles. Because of this, we are now being faced with one of the most complicated problems this century has had to endure. No one really knows the full details as to what will happen in the year 2000, we can only predict. Whatever the case may be, society has to work together to combat this great dilemma.