[1998 note: Until the publication of Ed and Jenifer Yourdon's book, "Time Bomb 2000," this article by Capers Jones was the most readable detailed introduction to the Year 2000 Problem that I knew about.]
The y2k problem will be a horrendously expensive problem to fix. This report shows just how expensive, and estimates by others place the costs far higher. But this is bad enough to reverse the stock markets of the world: dramatically reduced corporate earnings. When it finally hits the profit-and-loss statements, the markets will fall. The wild optimism of the1990's will become the wild pessimism (or worse) of 2000. Jones writes in his introduction:
"When the 20th century ends, many software applications will stop or produce erroneous results since their logic cannot deal with the transition from 1999 to 2000 when the dates are stored in two-digit form and their calendars change from 99 to 00. Because this problem is embedded in millions of aging software applications, the costs of fixing the 'year 2000 problem' appear to constitute the most expensive single problem in human history."
The big debate in the y2k field is what the cost will be of NOT fixing it. I am on the far end of the spectrum. I am afraid that the electrical power grids are at risk. If these go down and stay down, it could cost us the survival of Western civilization. This society rests heavily on electricity. (See Roberto Vacca's 1973 book, THE COMING DARK AGE. It did not discuss y2k.) The y2k optimists predict merely a major recession. Not too cheery, is it?
In version 4 of his report, dated Sept. 23, 1996, which I posted on January 21, 1997, Mr. Jones set a deadline for getting a large-scale y2k repair underway: June, 1997. He was adamant: "However, June of the year 1997 is the last month and year in which there is a reasonable possibility of finding and repairing all year 2000 instances before the end of 1999" (p. 4). June came and went.
Lo and behold, his latest report (Jan. 23) stretches the deadline date to October, 1997. This has the appearance of being a sop thrown to businessmen. "Please, please get started. It's not too late. Disregard what I said before. I was wrong. But this time I'm right." As I said in my original posting, "Frankly, I think we are now beyond the point of no return." I also predicted that he would push out his deadline estimate.
The real deadline is immovable: January 1, 2000.
The problem for the early "y2k alert" people, such as Peter de Jager and Mr. Jones, is that they have touted "awareness." Awareness is now worth zilch as far as getting the problem solved is concerned. It is way, way too late. But to say this in public is to switch from a respectable, though somewhat eccentric, prognosticator into an apocalyptic doomsayer. The awareness experts would lose their audiences. Problem: these audiences want to hear only one message: there's still time. But there isn't.
Awareness has not worked to get the problem fixed. It will not work to get the problem fixed. At best, it will get you moving to get your personal problem fixed. Don't try to fix it inside a city.
I take Mr. Jones reasonably seriously, except for his estimate on the deadline to get started. Since he keeps changing this deadline, I have learned not to take it seriously. Mr. Jones is an optimist, as all the "awareness" people are.
You will need to download Abobe Acrobat 3.0 to read this report. Look for the little triangle-shaped icon in the small box in the lower left hand corner of Mr. Jones' home page. Click it. It may take a few minutes to download the document. Meanwhile, you will be staring at a blank screen.