On This Day Pre-Y2K

Confused by any of the jargon you see below? Check the Y2K Glossary!

March 25, 1999 Permalink

When various somethings-big fall over from Y2k software failures, will the global “impulse response” to these shocks damp out after a few months, or instead will there be positive feedback resulting in an Infomagic devolutionary death-spiral?

My crystal ball is in the shop, but here’s why I expect we’re headed for a death spiral:

1. The complex global economic system has never before been shocked in this manner (or anything remotely like it). That is, the economic system has NEVER BEEN TESTED under these conditions. The analogy with software systems is straightforward -- testing is 50% of the software-development job not because testing is so much fun, but because extensive testing is the only practical way to reduce the ever-present risk of failure. The responses to Y2k by all the untested (and inadequately tested) software systems out there will assuredly result in catastrophic software failures. By analogy, the responses to these software failures by the untested global economic system out there will....

2. The Y2k software failures will be worse than we expect, because the software out there is in worse shape than we know. The strong bureaucratic CYA pressures in large organizations (both public and private) mean that most of the bad news is not getting out. Thanks to the GAO we know that several Federal agencies have blatantly lied about their Y2k compliance status. What then about the alleged Y2k compliance status of all the UNAUDITED organizations out there (e.g. the Fortune 500)?

3. Even with most of the physical infrastructure still intact, it will be of little use if the software, economic, and social infrastructures break down. As an extreme example, a band of post-crash urban hunter-gatherers would have a very difficult time repairing and restarting an integrated steel mill. “Fix on Failure”, eh?

4. Our Leaders (both public and private) are clueless. Maybe not 100% of them being 100% clueless 100% of the time, but enough so that Dilbert is a docu-drama.

5. Pride goeth before a fall. The Greeks had a word for it: Hubris. We’re the mightiest nation the world has ever seen. The end of empire is never pretty, and it generally comes as a rude surprise to the imperials. For a recent example, consider the British.

—Barb Knox, comp.software.year-2000, 03/25/99

im fed up of my mom crying on the phone and hanging up on me because she thinks i am crazy im fed up with having a constant sick feeling in my stomach, im fed up of dry heaves. im fed up of having y2k nightmares. im fed up of having to take sominex to go to sleep. im fed up trying to score pain killers to ease my nerves. “oh you just got you’re wisdom teeth out? got any extra pills” im tired of my friends looking at me like im crazy and laughing at me saying that i have lost it. im tired of worring about all of my family. i fed up with the fact that i have probably lost one of my best friends because of an argument about y2k. im fed up with the fact that my friends idle chit chat clueless conversations are so iritating to me now that i know about y2k that i cant hardly even talk to them anymore. im fed up with not being able to get out of bed some mornings. im fed up with having to go to my room and cry. really god. what up with all of this? seriously dude.

—mgv0415, comp.software.year-2000, 03/25/99

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