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Year of the millennium bug and end time prediction

NATIONAL
By Amos Kareithi | October 6th 2021
[Courtesy]

When the world’s leading social media platforms–Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp–suffered an outage for six hours, millions of users were plunged into information darkness.

The glitch that affected the platforms owned by American billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is nothing compared to the chaos that heralded the ushering in of the millennium on January 1, 2000.

Thousands missed flights, others waited for the end of the world, while companies mulled over losing their data.  

Those who were technologically literate 21 years ago can recall a more ominous prediction of a global meltdown.

The day was predicted by pessimists to be the end of the world–courtesy of a computer bug that sent chills down the spines of technology experts and corporate gurus especially in the finance and aviation sectors.

They feared that key sectors would be adversely affected by the millennium bug, occasioned by a tradition by computing engineers to use two digits for programmes (and omitting 19) when referring to a year to save on space and improve on speed of processing data.

According to Martyn Thomas in an article published by The Guardian, Y2K (short for Year 2000) was real and some of its effects were serious although others were comical.

The first signs of trouble were detected in 1988 when a computer erroneously indicated that a Minnesotan grandmother, Mary Bandar aged 104, was to join kindergarten. Her age was incorrectly indicated as 4.

At the same time, a supermarket rejected tinned meat because computers erroneously indicated that it had expired 88 years earlier. Also, a US video shop was shocked on receiving a bill of $91,250 (Sh10 million) calculated as rent of a film, The General’s Daughter for 100 years up to 1988.

As the predicted technological doomsday neared, some companies made millions from panicky customers by selling worthless software to guard against a meltdown. 

Although some governments like Russia disregarded the threat posed by the bug, others invested heavily and breathed a sigh of relief when the new century was ushered in without major catastrophes.

Still, air traffic was suspended in Scotland on the eve of the New Year even as traffic controllers complained that their radars had malfunctioned and they could not detect any airplanes. The radar was okay but all flights had been cancelled to avert a disaster.

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