Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Apocalypse When?

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Apocalypse When?

Article excerpt

Over the last decades of the 20th century, we have learned to rely on computers to flawlessly manage every aspect of our lives, from communication to transportation to commerce. Yet inherent in every technology including computers is the possibility of failure. Indeed, computers crash with maddening regularity, as we can all attest. Despite these failures, we expect the complex technological systems upon which our infrastructure depends will always function properly.

The potential Y2K computer disaster looming on the horizon threatens to change all that. While complex systems such as the electricity grid, transportation, and commerce may not fail here in the United States--and all indications are that they won't--our faith in technological progress is bound to be shaken.

Even now, just six months before the dawning of the new millennium, we can't predict with any certainty the extent of the problem. With global costs for hardware and software fixes approaching $9 billion, however, few experts still claim the problem is exaggerated. "That there will be a global disruption is a given; the extent and magnitude of the problem still remain to be determined," say Arnaud de Borchgrave and Stephanie Lanz at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

At the heart of the uncertainty is our global interconnectedness. "It is not a question of one thing going wrong," say de Borchgrave and Lanz, "but the possibility of tens of thousands of little failures occurring all over the world."

The greatest risk may be economic. "Information is the life blood of our global and domestic markets," says Edward Yardeni, chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. Yardeni warns that if information systems fail in 2000, a global recession could result.

Senator Robert Bennett, chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Problem, also warns of the threat Y2K poses to the global economy. "It would be naive to think that Y2K disruptions abroad will be constrained by national borders," he says. …

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