In exactly two years and 31 days (as of Sunday 30, November) the year 2000 will be upon us. This will mark the beginning of a new millennium; and for many people, one huge problem – the millennium bug or Y2K (Year 2000) virus. It is not actually a virus but a design flaw that affects computers, but don’t say it has nothing to do with you. If you have a bank account, use

telephones, or drive on streets with traffic lights, this is your problem, too. The entire world is now so dependent on computers that it is almost impossible to identify an aspect of life that is not affected by them.

The Y2K problem started over 40 years ago when computer programmers constrained by memory limitations deleted the century digits (19) from programming relating to dates. This basic design flaw has continued until now. In other words, computers read 1997 as just plain 97.

If you subtract the year 96 from the year 97 you get 1 year. So do the computers.

If you subtract the year 96 from the year 99 you get 3 years. So do the computers.

If you subtract the year 96 from the Year 2000, you get 4 years. The computers get something else. That “something else” is the Y2K problem.

The something else ranges from an answer of minus 96 to no answer at all. This affects all of us. Utilities, insurance, banking are all directly affected by date calculations. For example, imagine receive a utility bill on January 3, 2000, that claims you are in arrears for 99 years. Other systems likely to be affected include transportation – Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) are expected to roll over (change from this century to the next) as early as August 22, 1999. Many seacraft use the GPS to track their exact location at sea; the GPS system is also used by manufacturers to track the location of cargo. Aircraft flight recorders -black boxes, as the are commonly known – could possible be  affected.

Any system using a date or time function is at risk. These include expiration dates on food, drugs, credit cards, drivers’ licenses, check guarantee cards, debit cards, airline flight schedules, traffic light control systems and electronic cash registers.

Even your job could be affected. A study indicates that, if the Y2K bug is ignored, one per cent of large business worldwide could fail. For medium-sized businesses the failure rate is as high as seven per cent. Many small and medium-sized companies are still unaware of the Y2K problems and continue  to use non-compliant hardware – computers, cash registers, automated machinery and software for billing, inventory, salaries and other essential business functions. With the volume of computerisation in business today, loss or inaccuracies in accounting systems could destroy many companies. In the retail industry where most businesses rely on external suppliers, a collapse of one or more could result in a domino effect and increase the number of business failures.

Larger companies, especially corporations, are likely to have a lower failure rate with accountants, legal advisors  and information systems departments to prepare them. Additionally, large companies have been the subject of intensive efforts on the part of the computer industry vendors and consultants because they are the “bigger customers.”

Persons who own a computer are also at risk for system failure. IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and other computer manufacturers have stated that, beginning late in 1996, all of their Personal Computers are now “Year 2000 Compliant” with respect to the BIOS (Basic Input-Output System). The BIOS is responsible for booting the computer by providing a basic set of instructions. It performs all the tasks that need to be done at start-up time. Apple’s Macintosh Computers and Operating Systems were designed to avoid the century date change problem, but users should also check software for Y2K compliance.

In November last year, Bordecom International (Trinidad) hosted a one day seminar at the Trinidad Hilton titled “Year 2000 Implementation and Roll-Out Strategies.” Amoung the participants were representatives from NP, FCB, Trinidad Ceramics, Trinidad Systems, Maritime Financial Group, Guardian Holdings, Price Waterhouse and Halliburton. Senator Wade Mark, Minister of Public Administration and Information made the opening statement where he announced that the Government had also formed a Y2K compliance committee “with a view to identifying the sources and extent of the problem with resources from within and outside if the Public Service.” Most of the attendees of the seminar were already aware of the problem and came for further information.

Locally, many of the insurance companies and banks are well on the way to Y2K compliance. One local insurance representative has stated that they are 85-90 per cent compliant. Donald Kelshall of Savannah Computing believes that people are aware but think someone else is doing something about it. He believes that oraganisations like the National Insurance Board, Board of Inland Revenue and Ministry of Social Development which is responsible for Public Assistance are at great risk.