Y2K: Computer Bug Apocalypse

The Hysteria Over a Potential Glitch That Took Over 1999

What was it?

Standing for year 2000, Y2K was a technical flaw that was presumed to cause problems within computers worldwide involving dates going past December 31,1999. This meant that as people celebrated the New Year, the now coined, Millennium Bug, would take over at 12:00a.m. on January 1, 2000. As 1999 was coming to a close, programmers grew anxious that computers might not interpret 00 as 2000. This was rooted in a software problem as well as a hardware problem. The software is the electronic programs that tell the computer what to do while the hardware is the machinery that lies within the computer itself. When computer programs were first being written during the 1960’s through the 1980’s, engineers only used a two-digit code to document the year leaving out the “19” in order to save costly data storage space. It was theorized that computers would convert the new year date as being January 1, 1900, instead of January 1, 2000.

Best Buy Ad

With business booming, Best Buy took all necessary precautions to secure their customers safety. Throughout the year, updated agent uniform shirts were worn, and signs put up all over. Employees advised their clients to back up all data, print out any critical information, and get a tune-up to ensure that the computer was prepared to handle the issue.

Why Was it a Big Deal?

Many were skeptical about the potential threat, yet the theory still caused a slight panic. Most concerns related to the extreme damage that the bug could do to the economy, potentially causing a minor recession or even launching an economic depression. It was also thought that the average Dow stock would see a decrease of around 20%. This meant that activities planned on a daily or yearly basis would be disfigured or flawed. For example, the idea was that this could affect groups like banks, power plants, transportation, etc. Banks calculate interest rates daily, so instead of the computer calculating the interest on a loan for one day, it would calculate the rate of interest minus 100 years. In addition, there was major concern over public transportation which depends on specific dates and times. This included airlines, who were at high risk because computers with records of all scheduled flights would be in jeopardy. Some believed the bug would launch nuclear missiles or cause planes to fall from the sky— granted there were not many airline flights in 1900. Technology centers like powerplants were also at risk because they depended on routine computer maintenance for safety checks like water pressure and radiation levels. Without the correct date, the calculations would be thrown way off and could put nearby residents at risk.

What Were The Preparations?

Although there were skeptics, people packed go-bags with dehydrated food and survival supplies like it was the apocalypse. Many big corporations worked hard to make sure that they would not be affected when the Millennium Bug showed its face, but with all the different suppliers each company uses, it was hard to be sure. Corporations were concerned enough that they did not call victory prematurely. They would rather succeed anonymously rather than massive public failure. Software and Hardware companies, specifically within the U.S. and U.K. governments, worked quickly to bring a solution to table. A Y2K compliant programs was created in order to provide the simple solution of extending the date to a four digit number instead of two. Governments around the world, including the United States and Australia, spent the equivalent of $448 billion in today’s money value to combat the bug. However, countries like Italy, Russia, and South Korea did very little to prepare for it and they had no more technological problems than countries that spent millions.

Did It Happen?

There were not many problems once the new year rolled around. A nuclear energy plant in Ishikawa, Japan had some radiation equipment failure, but backup facilities said there was no threat to the public. The U.S. detected missiles launched by Russia and attributed it to the Y2K bug, however, the missile launches were planned ahead of time as part of Russia conflict in its republic of Chechnya— there was no computer malfunction. Both the hardworking programmers and the skeptics felt that the outcome reflected their predictions because programmers worked hard so that nothing bad would happen, but skeptics never believed the theory in the first place. Due to major lack of results, Y2K was dismissed as a hoax or end-of-world-cult after the fact.