Speaking before a meeting of the World Future Society, Michael P. Harden of Century Technology Services has warned that more serious problems than have been anticipated may arise when computers attempt to shift the calendar to the year 2000. The problem, according to Harden, does not lie so much with software and stand-alone computers, but with millions of chips embedded in all sorts of different systems.

Other experts agree. “It is no minor programming glitch,” according to Jonathan Spalter of the US Information Agency. “If we don’t take action, it could threaten economic stability.”

While large sums have been spent fixing computer systems and software, chips installed in electronic equipment have generally not been tested for Y2K compliance. Such things as security alarms, monitoring devices, industrial equipment, traffic lights and all sorts of schedule-dependent devices contain chips that control their timing functions. Many of these chips include year, month, day, hour, minute, second and hundredth, despite the fact that not all timing units are used by the chip. It may not be possible to determine which chips will fail until after they do so.

Harden says, “people are not doing things the right way, and problems are not actually being solved.”

“This is a major emergency,” says Harrison W. Fox, a staff member of the House of Representatives Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee. (Condensed from Science News, Vol. 155, 2 January 1999.)

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