Tech Time Warp: Y2K hysteria

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Dec 30, 2016 9:37:00 AM

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Making New Year’s resolutions might be easy, but keeping them can be pretty difficult. In fact, out of the 45 percent of Americans who make resolutions, only 8 percent successfully achieve them. Ready or not, the countdown to the New Year has begun.

As this year wraps up, we thought it would be interesting to look at some technical bugs that have popped up around New Year’s Eve. Yep, you guessed it, this Tech Time Warp looks at the Y2K bug — and what bugs the future might bring.

A quick Y2K recap

If you were too focused on your resolutions in 1999 and missed Y2K, fear not. This technical bug caused more chaos than necessary. In 1999 or 99, computer times were represented by double digits to represent the year. But, problems loomed when it was discovered that computers wouldn’t be able to handle the start of a new millennium. Analysts speculated that computers would crash and ultimately cause destruction worldwide. Hysteria quickly ensued and had people stockpiling items like dehydrated food for months prior to the New Year. In the end, despite a few power outages—one being a Japanese nuclear plant (everyone was safe)—and manual work to fix computers date function, the year 2000 came without a bang.

Is there a new Y2K bug?

Some say there is another time sensitive bug that will appear on March 19, 2038. Although this bug is a little different than the Y2K bug, it has a similar premise, and if it’s ignored it could cause some dire consequences. This new problem is the limitations of the 32-bit processors used by older legacy systems (these days most PCs have a 64 bit processor) and the fact that they cannot keep track of time in seconds past March 2038. In theory, time will stop, and the computers will stop working.

Is this really plausible, though? Because the date is a little over 20 years away, it doesn’t look like the Y2038 bug will have much of an impact. While infrastructure might pose a headache down the road, most 32-bit systems will naturally need to be replaced by then. While we may not resolve this in the next year or so, a good resolution for a future New Year’s would be to phase out 32-bit processors before 2038. 

Intronis blog

Topics: Tech Time Warp

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