00 Trouble Dawn of Millennium Will Make Computers Crazy, Experts Say

By Virginia Baldwin Hick Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

00 Trouble Dawn of Millennium Will Make Computers Crazy, Experts Say


Virginia Baldwin Hick Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


At the end of the millennium, you expect doomsayers.

Starting today, a group of several hundred seers is meeting here to try to head off some of the general mayhem they expect when the calendar turns to the year 2000 - plane crashes, train derailments, massive business failures, disruption of the world economic system, collapse of telecommunications and general confusion.

This is no cult of Nostradamus. It's the Technology Council on Software Engineering, a branch of the highly regarded Computer Society, whose members are the programming and software-designing elite.

They're worried about a fundamental weakness, built into nearly every software program in use today, that could cause the program to go unpredictably berserk when the last two digits of the year are zeros. Trouble could result because computers control many aspects of transportation, business and telecommunications.

"No matter what happens, we'll have crashes, and they will be pervasive across society," says Elliot J. Chikofsky, chairman of the council and director of the summit meeting. The meeting continues through Friday at the Adam's Mark Hotel downtown.

Take, for instance, a person living in New York who telephoned a "Happy New Year" wish to a friend in Los Angeles. It would be 12:01 a.m., 1/1/00 in New York and 9:01 p.m., 12/31/99 in LA. The phone company might bill the New Yorker for a phone call lasting 999 years.

That's because many programs use an original time and date and an ending time and date and then subtract the end from the original to get the amount of time under consideration. Because most computer systems use only two digits for years, the 00 would be read as 1900, or in the case of the telephone bill, some companies' computers might read the 000 as 1000. …

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