Originally posted on this site before Y2K (now just a distant memory) it is true to say that everyone got very worked up about this. If you want my opinion (and you probably don’t) I’m still surprised there weren’t more public incidents although let me assure you there were a number of major corporations that had major issues, it’s not in their best interests to tell you that they had problems!!
The Millennium bug raises real possibilities of serious safety incidents around the world. Just consider the figures.
There are between 20 billion and 40 billion microprocessors in use worldwide, of which 20 per cent are in commercial systems. Taking the lower estimate, this means there are about four billion industrial or commercial chips in use.
If 95 per cent of these are either located or bug-free, this still leaves 200 million industrial chips that will fail – or about 10 million an hour as each time zone passes into the Millennium.
Taking an optimistic view that 99.9 per cent of these malfunctioning chips have no impact, this leaves 200,000 safety-critical chips to fail.
Assuming that the worst never happens, let us accept that luck, quick-thinking or some other agency averts 90 per cent of the potential safety-critical incidents caused by the failure of these remaining chips. That still leaves 20,000 serious safety incidents worldwide, all of them likely to occur around the same time.
Assuming the best again, let us say the hand of God thwarts 99.9 per cent of these disasters: this still leaves 20 serious safety incidents worldwide – roughly one per time zone.
By comparison, on the day of Britain’s 1987 hurricane, not a single chip in Britain failed. It is no wonder that the Government has prepared contingency plans to deal with civil unrest, collapse of the national infrastructure, a breakdown of the NHS and a series of allied disasters.