No, this is not satire. Our federal government still had a program that was prepping readiness over a supposed issue that was to occur…17 years ago. The Y2K bug was something that permeated public consciousness in the lead up to the new millennium, and remains one of the more recent examples of public hysteria concerning spurious predictions. The belief was that computers would be confused when the time clocks switched over to the new year, namely because the date would be shown as “00” (dates were shown as such due to the costs of programming)…indicating that it was the year “1900” and not the year “2000”. Therefore, so the advocates of paranoia claimed, mass power outages would ensue, planes would crash worldwide, mass flooding would occur, and nuclear bombs/facilities would explode. Given such extremes, perhaps it is no surprise that many bought into advocating for preparing for the worse. Various experts and politicians signed on, and went from advocating certain measures (Congress passed the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act to facilitate federal agencies into working with private actors on certain “continuity of operations”, and encouraged buying into the hysteria by covering those who bought into it with liability protection…while lawyers were smitten with pursuing class-action lawsuits) to chastising those, whether nations or businesses, that didn’t do enough to combat the supposed problem.

Eventually, January 1st, 2000 came and went. What happened? Mostly nothing. While some glitches and problems did happened (hilarious examples include a customer being charged late fees for over 100 years, as well as inmates shown to have been released in 1900), nothing of a serious matter took place. Those more supportive of preparations point to the measures taken as reason for such an outcome, but no demonstrated evidence backs such an assertion up. The idea that public officials wouldn’t have taken credit for/reported specific preparations working to prevent failures seems debatable considering the political payoff. Countries that spent little to nothing in preparation for the supposed catastrophe, like Russia, China, Italy, and South Korea, experienced similar negligible issues as others like the United States and Canada, which spent hundreds of billions of dollars (a good question would be to know where all of it went to, but that likely will never be known, as with many similar projects). A similar outcome occurred with U.S. schools, with only 28% meeting supposed standards…and yet nothing taking place.

Also, it was questionable logic to assume that computers would necessarily be confused at date placements. Indeed those professions that are centered around such things, like late fee calculations or official documentation, might run into problems (hence the previous hilarious examples…though as demonstrated, easily fixable), but not every profession works that way. Programs that keep the lights on or perform medial tasks don’t necessarily depend on what the date is. This comes from the fact that computers don’t respond to dates and other symbolic information in the same way that humans do, therefore to hold them to such a standard is fallacious. Industries that were at risk likely experienced updates years before the height of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the century, including moving away from the aforementioned programming set-up mentioned before. Therefore, there was really no need for the political and public morass that ensued as the ball dropped. Perhaps abject fear among some that computers take up a larger and increasing swath of our everyday life is what allowed such paranoia to take hold, or even an abject pessimism that people could solve such an issue.  However, it was probably the fact that our lives and technologies are so diverse and decentralized and different, as well as industries responding to supposed oversights, that demonstrated why such a fear was overblown. This is why a free marketplace of inquiry, innovation, and understanding is so vital…indeed it isn’t perfect, but allows for the possibility of self-correction. That could very likely have happened here.

In the end, the ones that probably profited the most from the hysteria were technical positions which fed off of the mayhem. Such an instance shows the importance of not easily giving into paranoia, and being skeptical of the so-called experts and politicians that claim to have absolute knowledge of a particular problem. Analyze, question, and research carefully what is given, even that which appears popularly demonstrated. It is in those ages of hysteria when reason becomes all the more vital.

Extra:

http://www.eweek.com/security/some-perspective-5-years-after-y2k

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