A representatiuve of the Gartner Group testified before the House Subcommittee on Technology on Novemner 4. What he had to say about embedded chips borders on the apocalyptic.
There are many critics who say that my views on what could happen are ridiculous, exaggerated, and nothing but hype. Here is what Congress was told.
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Most of the computers in the world are not performing desktop functions. For example, in 1995, Dataquest, a Gartner Group company, estimated that more than 3.3 billion microcontroller chips were shipped; these are computers with word lengths from four to 32 bits embedded in hardware such as cars, video recorders, elevators, microwave ovens, access control systems, navigation equipment (e.g., GPS), nuclear power plants and weapons. Many such systems are date aware. In some cases, failure might cause serious business consequences, so the systems must be investigated as part of a year 2000 project. Many organizations in sectors such as manufacturing and utilities own nondesktop systems used for process control, monitoring and factory automation.
International commerce can be affected by the failure of air traffic control systems anywhere in the world. The same can be said for interruptions due to failure in postal and package delivery systems. International trade agreements will mean nothing if the mechanisms for trade -- communications, finance, production, and logistics break down between countries. Year 2000 focus must be contained in all current and future trade agreements.
Both embedded and nondesktop systems pose particular challenges and are likely to be more difficult to identify, test and correct than "normal" computer applications. . . .
Unlike "normal" computer software, failure of embedded systems frequently cannot be mitigated by manual systems. The national security can be impacted by the failure of weapon systems that could leave the country and/or itís allies vulnerable - at best. Action must be taken to assure compliance of all of these systems is a high priority. Power suppliers, frequently linked in a "Grid", must assure uninterrupted power, or whole regions could shut down. Failure of communication systems could shut down international commerce.