In 1980's a number of experts began to predict a crisis of unprecedented proportion. There was wide scale fear that our dependency on computer that were programmed using a two digit year would result in a catastrophic event when the computer time clock hit the new millennium. There was fear that everything from healthcare to transportation to banking would see system meltdowns. While there were no significant incidents an astronomical amount of money and manpower was used to modify these programs to meet this event. This paper will examine this critical time in history. It will include the following topic: Historical value, cost and final impact.
In the early 1960 when data processing was a new frontier, programmers decided that they could save twenty five percent of space needed by truncating date fields to a 6 digit field instead of the full four digits needed for the year to be storied (i.e. 01/01/60 as opposed to 01/01/1960). There was some concern for the future but most felt that these systems would be obsolete by the time this became an issue. As these programmer retired and were replaced by new programmers this practice was carried forward writing new programs on top of these programs with features that far exceeded the problems that were at the base of these programs. It was accepted practice till 1989 . The standards were to store the year in 2 digit form.
As new, smaller and faster computer and minicomputers were developed this practice became buried deep in the programs and many of the new programmers were not aware that when the new millennium rolled over that the computers wouldn't know if it was 1900 or 2000. This was not only an issue for those computer used in the financial world but transportation, energy, medical and any other business where computers were used in everyday operation. These systems were not only tracking financial transactions(banking, stock market and retail sales), transportation (car, trains and plane), power plants (hydroelectric and atomic), medical records and medical equipment but also extensively used by our military as well as foreign military. By the mid 1980, there were very few aspects of everyday life that were impacted by our extensive use of computers.
When the experts began to acknowledge there were problems with the storage of a two digit year instead of the complete four year date it was believed that this would only impact those large mainframe computers (legacy systems) but as they began to dig deeper it was soon realized that not only were these systems plagued with the Y2K bug but personal computers and embedded chips integrated into every aspect of our live also were programmed with this ticking time bomb. This included everything from intravenous pumps used in hospitals; pacemakers controlling the heartbeats of patients to the air conditioning units that keep us cool and warm everyday .