Friday 01 January 2010

Y2K Crisis: A Decade Later

It was exactly 10 years ago from today that the so-called Y2K bug threatened to cause catastrophic computer system failure worldwide. The bug was attributed to an oversight in computer programming in which dates were stored as data in an ambiguous format such that many software were unable to differentiate between years in different millennia that shared the same last two digits. As the countdown loomed closer to 1 January 2000 (when the rollover would occur), both public and private sectors began to escalate their efforts with unprecedented assiduity in a desperate attempt to fix affected software for which a malfunction would threaten our global security or economy. At the same time, the prospect that critical city services and infrastructures might collapse at the turn of the millennium because of a peculiar software glitch fueled growing fear among the public, many of whom had scarce understanding of the true nature of the underlying problem.

Fortunately, with few exceptions, the Y2K crisis turned out to be a non-event. No globally significant major computer system failure occurred. Proponents argued that the absence of a catastrophe was prima facie proof of the success of the preemptive measures taken to address the problem. Opponents argued that the crisis was largely overblown and the panic expressed by the public was mostly unnecessary. Skeptics also claimed that countries which had invested much less intensive remediation effort apparently experienced no more Y2K-related problems than countries which had invested much more.

It is unlikely that we will ever know the full potential impact of the Y2K crisis. The truth, however, likely lies somewhere in between the opposing speculations. Regardless, the Y2K crisis has served to warn us of the danger in our dependence on technology and, more importantly, teach us that indeed an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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