The Year 2000 Problem:
The Year the Earth Stands Still
We've got a problem. It may be the biggest problem that the modern world has ever faced. I think it is. At 12 midnight on January 1, 2000 (a Saturday morning), most of the world's mainframe computers will either shut down or begin spewing out bad data. Most of the world's desktop computers will also start spewing out bad data. Tens of millions -- possibly hundreds of millions -- of pre-programmed computer chips will begin to shut down the systems they automatically control. This will create a nightmare for every area of life, in every region of the industrialized world.
It's called the year 2000 problem. It's also called the millennium bug, y2k, and (misspelled), the millenium time bomb. Millennium or millenium: it doesn't matter how we spell it; this bomb isn't going away.
Think of what happens if the following areas go down and stay down for months or even years: banks, railroads, public utilities, telephone lines, military communications, and financial markets. What about Social Security and Medicare? If Social Security and Medicare go down, it will affect millions of people. Yet both programs are at risk.
Is this possible? It's far more than merely possible. One man who thinks that disruptions are likely is Ed Yourdon, one of America's senior mainframe computer programmers, author of two dozen books on programming. He and his daughter have written a book, TIME BOMB 2000. You can read the Preface by clicking the link I've provided under the category, "Domino Effect." See the document, "Senior American Programmer Writes Y2K Survival Book." I have also posted extracts from a key article he wrote in the summer of 1997. See the Categories "Domino Effect" and "Programmers' Views." Look for the key word, "Yourdon." You may not believe my scenario. You had better take Yourdon's scenario very seriously. In the Category "Programmers' Views," he warns programmers that it may soon be time to quit their big city jobs and head for safer places. See the posting: Yourdon: Should Programmers Quit and Leave Town in 1999? If they do, there will be no solution for y2k. Will they quit? I'm betting my life on it. The exodus of programmers will begin no later than 1999.
Months before January 1, 2000, the world's stock markets will have crashed. Who is going to leave his money in his bank if he thinks his bank's computer is not reliable? A worldwide run on the banks will create havoc in the investment markets. People who have placed their retirement hopes in stocks and mutual funds will see their dreams vanish. How reliable will stocks and mutual funds be if the banking system has closed down? How will you even get paid? How will your employer get paid? How will governments get paid?
By the way, no government tax collection agency above the county level is Year 2000-compliant today. People will know in 2000 that the government cannot trace them. Will they continue to pay, especially if the huge government welfare programs for the elderly have shut down?
But if governments don't get paid, what happens to government debt markets? How high will interest rates go in 1999 if investors think that governments will default in 2000? What will high rates do to the world's economy?
Everything is tied together by computers. If the computers go down or can no longer be trusted, everything falls apart. And it matters not a whit to the computers whether we accept this fact or not. They do what they've been programmed to do. They've been programmed to recognize 2000 as 1900. (Uncorrected PC architecture DOS and Windows-based desktop computers will revert back either to 1980 or 1984. They can be corrected briefly, but as soon as a PC is turned off, the correction dies. It will reboot to 1980 or 1984. Meanwhile, PC programs must be redesigned.)
Our first response when we hear this news is denial. Most people will stay in denial, including the business managers whose companies are totally vulnerable to a computer failure. This is why the problem will not be fixed. Everyone in authority will deny that time has run out to get this fixed, right up until December 31, 1999. They are paid to deny this. I'm saying that it's over. Right now. It cannot be fixed. Whatever it does, the Millennium Bug will bite us. How hard? There the debate begins.
Read the list of vulnerable systems that was posted by the Institution of Electrical Engineers. It's under "Noncompliant Chips": "If These Systems Are at Risk, Everything Is at Risk" (Nov. 4). Anyone who says that y2k is not a big problem needs to understand just how many systems are at risk. Print out this list and hand it to the skeptic. Let him see for himself.
I don't expect you to believe me . . . yet. That is why I have created this site. On this site you will find links to other Web sites that have posted documents related to the Year 2000 Problem. Included are such things as military sites, government hearings, news releases, and much more. I also include comments with each document, so that you can understand why I think it's important.
Despite its 1,800+ entries, the goal of this site is not to bury you in information. Rather, it is to give you a sense of the magnitude of the problem. The domino effect of a computer-driven breakdown in supply delivery systems, including the means of payment (banks), will be huge. This site will help you to evaluate your own personal vulnerability.
I have many critics who believe that my scenario is too apocalyptic. You must decide for yourself. This Web site is designed to provide you with relevant evidence to help you make an informed opinion, and then a principled series of decisions.
If you have practical questions -- where to go, what to buy, etc. -- ask them on one or more of the discussion forums. That is why I have created them.
When you hear good news about some organization that is y2k-compliant, recall Ronald Reagan's statement with respect to disarmament treaties: "Trust, but verify." Get a signed letter on letterhead stationery that the organization is 100% compliant. Until you receive this form of written assurance, which the outfit's lawyers have cleared, assume the worst. Don't take seriously any promise that the outfit will be compliant RSN: Real Soon Now. If you are told that the organization will be compliant in December, 1998, and ready for testing in January, 1999, you have a form letter in your hands. Just about every firm promises this, since they admit that they need at least six months for testing.
The answer to this standard form letter is a letter back: "Have you signed an agreement to lease mainframe computer time for testing your software, beginning on January 3, 1999? If so, with what leasing company?" If every outfit that promises to be ready for testing by January 2, 1999, meets its deadline -- they all won't -- then there will be no excess mainframe capacity to run the mandatory tests. On the other hand, if companies can still buy 1999 rental time today -- and they can (rented by non-compliant companies) -- then ignore all assurances about a December, 1998, deadline. The only valid proof of the seriousness of the assurance of a late 1998 deadline is the outfit's signed contract that leases at least six months of mainframe computer time in early 1999.
Note: If my critics want to create their own Web sites filled with "it's not going to be all that bad" evidence, they may do so. I am unaware of any such site on the Web today.
I am also unaware of any y2k programmer who says, "Even if programmers don't get this fixed, there will not be big problems." The debate is over two questions: (1) "Can the programmers get this fixed in time?" and (2) "How big will our problems be if they don't?" My answers: "no" and "catastrophic." You'll have to decide for yourself, either now or later.
One last warning: the governments' strategy, all over the world, is: (1) talk this problem to death, (2) form committees, and (3) send out PR sheets that they will make it -- without evidence. But this problem cannot be talked to death or solved by committees. It cannot be avoided. There is an absolutely fixed deadline. Bureaucrats are not used to absolutely fixed deadlines. Neither are computer programmers.
I'm not a programmer. My Ph.D. is in history. I take the historian's view: things are interconnected in ways we can barely understand. If you want to know what I think lies ahead, get copies of the three books that I mention in my free e-mail report, "Blind Man's Bluff in the Year 2000."
"Blind Man's Bluff in the Year 2000" is ideal for introducing the problem to wives, in-laws, and other skeptics. You can receive a copy in a few minutes.
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You can set up a version of my Y2K site on your own web site. Then pull traffic into your site by promoting your site's version. Update it whenever you want. This will build interest in your site and also get out the word on Y2K without jamming up my site with extra visitors. That will keep my site operating faster. Click here garynorth.zip (3.4 MB - 8 MB unzipped) to download the latest (June 19, 1998) zipped mirror of this site. On your PC simply unzip it and FTP the files to your own website. This set of files is completely self contained and ready to go.