The Y2K Millenium Bug Explained | Year 2000 Problem - Digitash

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The Y2K Millenium Bug Explained | Year 2000 Problem in Computer Programming

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If you were born in the 90s or before, you might have heard about the Y2K millennium bug which rattled the whole computer industry. Before we jump into this bug, let’s take a quick look into the history of programming and computer storage.

Timeline of popular programming languages

In the 1950s, FORTRAN, COBOL, and many programming languages were created. After this, a lot of high-level programming languages were created, and the computer software industry started to grow faster.

 FORTRAN  1954-57  Numeric
 ALGOL 60  1958-60  Numeric
 COBOL  1959-60  Business
 APL  1956-60  Vector / Matrix math
 LISP  1956-62  Symbols
 SNOBOL4  1962-66  Strings
 PL/1  1963-64  General
 BASIC  1964  Educational
 PASCAL  1971  Educational
 PROLOG  1972  AI/Logic with rules
 C  1972  General
 SCHEME  1975  Educational
 ADA  1979  General
 Smalltalk  1971-80  Applications/Objects
 C++  1982-86  General/Objects
 CLOS  1983-84  LISP/Objects
 PERL  1987-89  Scripting
 JAVA  1991  Applets, General/Objects
 JavaScript  1995  Web development
 PHP  1995  Web development

 

Computer storage

In 1956, IBM introduced IBM 350, the world’s first hard disk drive. Even though this hard disk drive weighed nearly a ton, it’s memory capacity was only 5 megabytes.

IBM 350 RAMAC Y2K millennium bug explained

IBM 350 RAMAC (Source: IBM)

Integrated circuit

In 1947, the world’s first transistor was invented. And, in 1958, an American electrical engineer named Jack Kilby took tiny transistors and integrated them on a germanium (Ge) semiconductor, creating the world’s first integrated circuit. Integrated circuits revolutionized the computer industry. It led to the development of RAM and CPU that we use today.

Integrated circuit Y2K millennium bug explained

Integrated circuit

The Y2K Millennium Bug

After 1980, it became absolutely necessary to computerize all fields. But, during that time period, the cost of computer storage was still very high. Due to this high cost of storage, software engineers wrote codes with an aim to utilize less memory. Normally, when we write a date, first we will mention the day, then the month, and then the year, in 8 digits format as shown below.

23/10/1991

But in those days, software engineers, in order to save memory, coded the years to be saved as 2 digits instead of 4. Now, in order to save a date on a computer, instead of 8 spots, only 6 digits were required, using less memory.

23/10/91

But, as the years get saved in 2 digits, computers saved the year 2000 as 00. But, there was just one problem with this date format.

23/10/00

Computers will assume this 00 as the year 1900. Computers won’t be able to distinguish the years 1900 and 2000. And, the year 2000 was a leap year. This messes up the dates in computers. This is how the Y2K bug got its name.

As a result of this bug, when the year 1999 ends and the year 2000 begins, computers and electronics all over the world were predicted to malfunction. From hospitals to nuclear power plants, all the fields were already computerized by this time. So, everyone feared that this Y2K bug could cause a chaos.

Center For Year 2000 strategic stability Y2K millennium bug explained

U.S. Air Force Cyber Systems Operations (Source: U.S. Air Force)

What if nuclear missile systems malfunction due to this Y2K bug and cause another world war? To avert this, USA and Russia conducted the Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability, a joint operation during the transition (1999 to 2000). Coordinators from over 120 countries established the Y2K Cooperation Center (IY2KCC) and promoted the Y2K awareness worldwide.

The aftermath of the Y2K millennium bug

December 1999 Y2K millennium bug explained

During the midnight of January 1, 2000, no large-scale problems were reported. But in some places, card swipe machines stopped processing credit and debit card transactions but the services resumed after a while.

In Onagawa nuclear power plant in Japan, an alarm sounded two minutes after midnight. And in Ishikawa nuclear power plant in Japan, a radiation-monitoring equipment failed at midnight. However, officials stated there was no risk to the public.

Similarly, minor technical malfunctions were reported all over the world. To overcome this Y2K bug, all over the world, $300 – $858 billion dollars have been spent in the computer industry as per various reports.

Y2K make people realize how important computers are in the modern world. Share your thoughts about the Y2K in the comment section below.


References:
CNN – U.S./Russian Y2K center to avoid nuclear exchange – March 4, 1999
http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9903/04/ameruss.y2k.idg/

Y2K bug
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/Y2K-bug/

History of Computers: A Brief Timeline
https://www.livescience.com/20718-computer-history.html

The history of computer data storage, in pictures – Pingdom Royal
https://royal.pingdom.com/2008/04/08/the-history-of-computer-data-storage-in-pictures/

What a 5MB Hard Drive Looked Like in 1956
https://thenextweb.com/shareables/2011/12/26/this-is-what-a-5mb-hard-drive-looked-like-is-1956-required-a-forklift/

Year 2000 Problem | Encyclopedia.com
https://www.encyclopedia.com/science-and-technology/computers-and-electrical-engineering/computers-and-computing/year-2000-problem

Y2K Repair Bill: $100 Billion
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPcap/1999-11/18/077r-111899-idx.html

Some Key Facts and Events in Y2K History
https://www.computerworld.com/article/2597231/computer-hardware/some-key-facts-and-events-in-y2k-history.html


About Santhosh Kumar D

Aeronautical engineer and a science enthusiast. Also an editor & founder of Svash Media.

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