|Y2K : The Not-So-Phantom Menace
by Said K. Sadain
15 December 1999
2000 is fast approaching and, in a little less than two weeks, will swamp us. The Y2K bug
Information Ages equivalent of the Sword of Damocles, that classical threat of just
one tiny sliver of thread, the innocent yet vicious possibility of on-off bits, I/0 blips,
to snap and go haywire, the threat of sharp logic convoluted with faulty input, the
computerized incision of the Year 2000 being ripped back into the Year 1900 with all its
computative and amputative ramifications is becoming less of a phantom and more of
a menacing figure now, taking shape before the minds of more people.
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Is the Y2K bug the
giant tidal wave that would lash at the very roots of civilization and drag it back into
the sea, or is it just a snug rustling of a placid ocean that would playfully taunt the
shore of civilization with its pregnant waves?
Governments and people around the
putting up their precautionary and contingency measures like sailboats and fortresses (and
Noahs Ark too) being primed up for a deluge. Increasingly, structures and systems
that drive the computerized civilization of today cannot anymore hide their nervousness
behind their assurances, any better than they can hide the shore from the sea.
pronouncements are now being given publicly to the effect that banks, power and water
utilities, government agencies, food supplies, transportation and communication facilities
and the computers that drive them, can well hold up to the Y2K challenge, that they will
be there and will remain operational as sure as the rising of the sun on and beyond the
Y2K rollover date. Citizens are being advised not to hoard food or clear their bank
accounts or abandon their homes for some mountain retreat.
And yet, almost
surreptitiously, governments and monetary agencies flood the world with extra cash that
could spell out the difference between a bank-run panic and a non-event. While nuclear
facilities and airline agencies are stepping on each other like children in a me,
too! scramble to proclaim their systems as Y2K-bug free, yet in the same breath,
they tell of their intentions to shut down their facilities or cancel their flights during
the critical rollover period, pressed by concerned and responsible voices about
apprehensions that could not easily be dismissed and laid to rest. Control centers between
nuclear sites in the USA and the former Soviet Union have been set up especially to
monitor the event, and presumably, to avoid any false signals from triggering a nuclear
warhead exchange. Ships have been barred from passing certain straits and routes during
the Y2K rollover period to avoid navigational disasters. Emergency teams and centers are
arranged to be on guard during the year-end merriment.
Industry research reports
and surveys come up with statistics of the compliance of regions and countries and
critical sectors across the globe, and, by early December, they make believe that
everybody seems to be largely okay. Some of these surveys and reports emphasize that
highly-industrialized countries are already well above the threshold of acceptable Y2K
compliance while Third World countries are lagging far behind and could be in for some
shocks. Some other reports would point out that if there is anything that will get badly
hit, it will be the highly computerized segments of civilization in the Western World,
while the Third Worlders will not even notice a power failure or be inconvenienced by a
non-operating elevator or a falling jet engine or the slow movement of their Social
Security loans through the labyrinths of whatever civilization they have.
So who are we to believe? The movies? The government? The
doomsday guru? The oblivious blinking of computer diodes?
Whatever the outcome,
there is one certainty here: civilization will survive this bug as it has survived so many
distortions of the truth over centuries. We may concede, even now, that it may not just be
a phantom. It may even be a real menace in some situations, in some areas. But it will not
be Armageddon, not yet anyway.
If and when civilization
finally collapses and perishes, it will be because of the certainty of a Truth far more
absolute and far more basic than computer I/Os, not because of the stupidity of computer
programmers, systems engineers and their project managers.
In the meantime, we are
well advised to prepare ourselves how to deal, beyond the Y2K bug, with more tyrannies,
almost always committed by humans and increasingly abetted by machines, with the dawning
of a new millennium that promises the deluge of more technology that may humanize or
de-humanize mankind some more, enhance or distort our truths some more, prolong or shorten
our existence some more.
This, now, is the Information Age.