Yes, you are right. This is the first article I am starting with an emoji.
How old were you when this "end of the world" scare happened? Were you also fooled into believing that the world would end on December, 31st 1999?
Every time I think about how dumb we were back then; I laugh at myself and all the scholars who spread the rumors back then. I stayed awake the whole night waiting to see our home computer exploding, or some planes falling from the sky!
It was so serious that some people even made some underground bunkers and hid. While others went to church to repent their sins and ready themselves for the coming of the messiah! Stupid? Right?
But what was Y2K?
Ok, jokes aside, Y2K, at the time, was a serious concern for even the top technologists, scientists, and governments. Why?
Here is the thing...
The real story behind Y2K: All you need to know about the Year 2000 problem.
The year 2000 Issue (Y2K), also called the Millennium bug, Y2K bug, Year 2K, is an issue related to the calendar data formatting and storage events for dates starting in the year 2000.
Problems were foreseen and were caused by the incompatibility of systems back then to display 2000. Since many systems had four-digit years with just the last two digits, making the year 2000 look different from 1900 or 1800 was the biggest problem.
Assuming a 20th Century date in such a program could cause errors in these systems, like incorrect dates display and inaccurate ordering of automated dated records or events in real-time.
At the turn of the year from 1999 to 2000, two potential problems were presented in many computer programs. It became hard to use two digits to show a year with logical errors resulting from roll-over from ##99 to ##00. This led to incorrect operation of date-related processing for dates and time on January, 1st 2000, as well as on other crucial dates.
Without remedial intervention, long-term projects and system would break down when the …95, 96,97,98,99,00… suddenly became null.
Some programmers misunderstood the Gregorian rule of calendar Years that are exactly divisible by a hundred are not leap years, provided the year 2000 is not a leap year. While this is valid, there is an exception to the fact that the years divisible by 400 are leap years, which meant that 2000 was a leap year.
However, fixing all this was not the biggest part of the problem. Around 1997, AT&T had projected that 60% of the time and resources necessary to make its overall enforcement efforts would be spent checking the changes made to the source code to fix the problem.
Institutions, companies, and organizations in some nations, but not all, had tested, patched, and updated their computers to handle the anticipated issues. Luckily, by the time the clock was rolling over to 2000, very few computer systems were affected.
Understanding the Background of Y2K and why it was a big problem.
False prophecies were made at the time with tons of conspiracy theories trying to explain the technicality of the Y2K bug.
Peter de Jager’s 1993 three-page paper ‘Doomsday 2000’ referred to as the information age equivalent of Paul Revere’s ‘Midnight Ride’ by the New York Times.
The issue had been predicted long before the turn of the year by Spencer Bolles in his comments in a Usenet newsgroup (The forums of the ‘80s). He mentioned the Y2K buy on January 18th, 1985.
The name Y2K (The year 2000) was coined by David Eddy in his email sent back on June 12th, 1995. Earlier, it was referred to as Century Date Change (CDC), Faulty Date Logic (FDL), and some other weird names. Y2K was the most preferred by many scholars and news agencies back in the late ‘90s.
Back then, the storage on both mainframe systems and personal computers was very expensive. That is where the issue began. Most computer systems and programs could only prefix the years with 19. Many programs used or saved date on disks or tapes where the data form a was six digits in the form of DDMMYY. Notice that the year, YY was represented as two digits.
Since storage space and tapes were costly, people would prefer to reduce storage data files and databases to fit. At the time, some programs could not differentiate between 1900 and 2000 when presenting two-digit years.
How was the Y2K issue resolved?
Governments worldwide set up special committees to track corrective work and urgent scheduling in crucial systems, like telecommunication systems, electricity, and the likes, to ensure that the most critical services are not affected during the changeover.
Mechanisms were put in place to confront the Y2K problem. While some analysts and experts argued that the crisis was mainly a scaremongering problem, what concerned the general public was to live beyond January 1st, 2000.
Fortunately, the Y2K crisis did not occur per se because the technical guys started working on the challenge long before December of 1999. All the same, even if the Year 2000 compliance did not turn out to be a major issue, it was a lesson learned for the tech gurus. The event informed the design and development of future tech systems.
The rapture and Y2K were the greatest scares of the ‘90s.
Lessons learned from Y2K “Apocalypse”: The end that never was!
On January 1st, 2000, the world was supposed to collapse like a nuclear reaction planted by aliens! It was like Noah’s ark of the Information Age: a fateful reckoning with the technology we had developed ourselves and became dependent on it.
Worldwide panic began back in 1996, soon after the British Standards Institute developed its Year 2000 compliance criteria. In one part of the world, people were worried that their alarm clocks would fail, to make them miss work. While is some other first world countries, people were worried about closing down nuclear power plants, crashing aircraft, and nuclear wars as depicted in some movies at the time. It was called “The End of the World!”.
My biggest take away from the events of the Y2K is that we are heavily dependent on technology. The gadgets seem to have taken over the world to the extent that failure in the proper functionality of the gadget will lead to events that can be likened to an apocalypse.
Do you remember this Time magazine “End of the World” cover?
Image Courtesy: Y2KNews.
Sometime early 1999, Time magazine published a cover all about “The End of the World?” The following day, the then-president Bill Clinton said in the state of his union that there is a need for every state, local government, big and small, to work together to ensure that the Y2K computer bug is remembered to be the last 20th Century headache and not the first 21st-century crisis.
Some of the people who warned about the risk of this paranoia were John Koskinen, the then chairman of the 2000 conversion commission of Bill Clinton. He said overreactions will become one of the biggest problems left to handle. Bill Gates, at some point also confirmed that some countries would have more trouble with the year 2000 compliance than others, but for most of the developed world, it was just a slight inconvenience.
Traffic lights were expected to cause jams and cash machines to stop running. What startled me even further was when the American Red Crossed advised that people should withdraw and keep their money in a safe place, fill gas tanks, and have extra warm clothes. There was even a scare of a shortage of medical supplies.
There is little or no difference between the countries that prepared well for the Y2K and those that did nothing.
Was Y2K a global sham?With the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Self-driven Vehicle, and Augmented reality, I foresee something similar happening. Unfortunately, this time around, it may be more severe since we are heavily dependent on computers. The development of the Internet Of Things (IoT) is just going to make it even worse. If one thing fails, everything follows like dominos.
Did you witness the panic and havoc caused by the Y2K back in 1999? What do you remember?