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1998-05-01 12:03:00


Programmers Didn't Create Y2K Problem, Says Amdahl



Programmers did not create this problem; users did. They wanted to save two digits out of 80 on those IBM punch cards. So says Dr. Amdahl, a pioneer programmer.

Well, you can look at it this way. For example, nuclear physicists didn't create the threat of nuclear war by inventing the Bomb. Roosevelt and Truman paid them to do it. But there is this crucial difference: programmers in the 1950's knew what would happen in 2000: their systems would die. Managers didn't know this. Managers are not propeller heads. They don't understand code. They just hire code-writers and hope for the best. They were not warned of the unprecedented cost-benefit choice involved in saving those two digits.

There were a few nuclear physicists who warned their peers that the Bomb would unleash a new, more dangerous age. But most physicists looked at Nazi Germany and said, "It's them or us. Better that we discover it first." Where were the programmers who sounded the alarm? Where were the debates? This was not top secret stuff in 1955. There was no national security issue then. But there is now.

The programmers never made it clear what would happen. IBM did not warn users. A physician is expected to warn patients of dangerous side effects. If he doesn't, and numerous patients die, the physician can be sued. A jury may award damages. Big, big damages.

I would not be an investor in IBM shares today. Or even Amdahl shares.

This is from the AUSTRALIAN FINACIAL REVIEW (May 1).

* * * * * * *

Meanwhile, IT pioneer Dr Gene Amdahl has rejected any suggestion that the industry, in which he has been working since the 1950s, is partly to blame for the problem.

Dr Amdahl, in New Orleans to launch a Y2K "time machine" solution from Commercial Data Servers, said it was the users of technology who were responsible because they chose to use two-digit dates rather than four digits.

"It was the user who wanted to make the most of the 80 columns on the card, and who wanted to pack as much as possible onto the early magnetic disks that didn't have much room. This isn't a vendor problem," Dr Amdahl said.


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