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Computer systems worry over pending "year 10,000" problem

Computer systems worry over pending "year 10,000" problem, Procyon 4, Jan 15, 9998 -- (Galac-News) Concern is building system-wide over a pending problem in computer systems known to software experts as the "year 10,000 bug," a problem which may have catastrophic consequences for computer systems everywhere on the morning January 1, 10,000.

While sentient bios and most constructs will be out partying in the new age that night, computer systems all over the galaxy will suddenly begin miscalculating dates because their designers decided long ago to store the year as a 4-digit number.

"When the year goes to 5 digits, tons of systems won't handle it," says Protocol-Guru Jens Flark, a 1,821 year old bio from Tharsis City, Mars. "They will think it's suddenly the year zero. They'll miscalculate everything, from bank interest to digital signatures to security codes."

"It's all due to lazy programmers in the distant past," said Flark. "Software written thousands of years ago was never expected to last this long, so the programmers figured they could store the date in 4 digits. But it has lasted and now we have to spend a fortune to deal with it. If we don't, the galaxy may simply be locked up on New Year's Day."

Analysts suggest that the cost could be in trillions of MW-Creds just for governmental systems. The corporate cost is even higher.

But the real concern is among beings who are implemented in software themselves. "I have routines in me coded 7,500 years ago," complains Jessica "Jess" ZeeWdop, a construct from New Jersey, on old Earth. I have no idea what they do, and everybody knows you never play with your old subroutines."

ZeeWdop wonders if she might go mad on January 1, 10,000, or have to shut major parts of herself down. It's not something she enjoys thinking about. Most constructed beings have ancient software buried inside them, some reaching back almost 8,000 years to the dawn of computer technology. "I think I have stuff written in Cobol," complains ZeeWdop, referring to a very ancient language, "and my 4-6 cousin Ashleigh is still running Windows 3.1 in parts of her!"

She has reason for her concern. The crisis has created a small industry of "Year 10,000 bug experts" who charge high fees to locate potential problems and fix them.

ZeeWdop doesn't trust them. "A friend of mine paid one of those so-called experts to fix its systems. He was written over 1900 years ago, but when they were done with him, he had the mind of a 150 year old. Nobody but his family will talk to him any more," she reports.

The most sought after experts are consultants from Sirius, which broke away from the Earth alliance in 8,342. The new Sirius government decided to reset its calendar back to the date of their revolution, and it required extensive reprogramming. Sirius citizens, however, tend to look with derision on the retention of old Earth-dates by galactic civilization and are not very willing to help.

A standard technique to test for year 10,000 problems is to make a copy of software, and then tell that copy's internal clock that it's January 1, 10,000. Then sit back and see what breaks. This of course illegal for artificial intelligences, who see no way out. Some plan to just slow down their clocks and busily buy new components for themselves that can handle new dates and the old, slowed-down systems.

Meanwhile, programmers are busily recoding systems to handle 5 digit dates.

"That will hold us for 90,000 years," says Flark. "No way anybody written today is still going to be running then."