Millennium Bug, 20 years on: a disaster that never happened… or not?

20 years ago the entire world was afraid to descend into chaos as a result of computers not being able to cope with displaying a date containing year 2000: both computer experts and general public alike were convinced that computers across the globe would crash and networks would been unaccessible.

Then 1 January 2000 arrived, and the crisis simply didn’t happens: planes did not fall, nuclear plants didn’t explode and the internet didn’t shutdown.


So, was the Millennium bug just a myth?

In a article on People [1], Jason Duaine Hahn talks about the Millennium Bug and how has been overestimated its the real impact on the IT and on the “real life”:

But when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the lights stayed on and society remained intact. There was no global meltdown after all, largely thanks to the programmers who worked tirelessly to implement the fixes in the lead up to the big day.

[…]

In all, preparation for Y2K cost the U.S. upwards of $100 billion, the Washington Post reported in November 1999, though many have since credited Y2K with creating new jobs and highlighting the importance of information technology employees.

Interestingly enough, it wouldn’t be until nearly two decades later, in June 2017, that the government finally eliminated paperwork obligations for federal agencies that ordered them to provide updates on their preparedness for the bug. One of these requirements had the Pentagon file a report every time a small business vendor was paid, which took up to 1,200 manhours a year, according to Bloomberg.

However, the night did not go off entirely without a hitch.

Thom Gibbs talks about this topic in a long article on The Telegraph [2]:

That is the conventional narrative, with examples like the 150 malfunctioning slot machines at a Delaware racetrack given to illustrate the small fry impact of Y2K [3]. Some dates went wrong on some websites, some bus ticket machines didn’t work in Australia, someone returning the film The General’s Daughter in New York state was billed $91,250, because the computer thought he’d had rented it for 100 years. So, little to worry about in the grand scheme of things. But “nothing”?

There are no previously unrevealed tales of armageddon to relay here, but some people did feel the impact of the bug. Nine hundred families living in apartments in Pyongchon, South Korea were left shivering after their heating went out. Dialysis machines stopped working in a hospital in Egypt. Most concerning is the story of 150 pregnant women being given incorrect results in a test for Down’s Syndrome in Sheffield [5]. A computer error attributed to the millennium bug meant the women were told they were at low-risk, which meant four Down’s syndrome pregnancies went undetected.

Furthermore, an alarm at a japanese nuclear power plant [4], some vending machines for prepaid train cards to stop working in Japan, and several web sites like forecasting maps at the official U.S. Naval Observatory site, the French weather service, and a Star Trek site. [6]

Finally, I leave you with a gem: NBC published a made-for-TV movie that played on the chance that everything that experts said could go wrong actually did.
Here the trailer:


References

  1. 20 Years Ago, Y2K Hysteria Led to Emergency Bunkers and Cost the U.S. $100 Billion
  2. The millennium bug myth, 20 years on: Why you’re probably wrong about Y2K
  3. Minor bug problems arise – BBC News
  4. Japan nuclear plants malfunction – BBC News
  5. NHS faces huge damages bill after millennium bug error – The Guardian
  6. Preparation pays off; world reports only tiny Y2K glitches – CNN

Related posts