A flawed solution to avoid Y2K bugs is causing harm in 2020. In New York City, parking meters have stopped working, as have many cash registers at retailers and even the WWE 2K20 wrestling game.
Remember in 1999, when the Y2K bug threatened to collapse the global computer network. 20 years later, it would appear that the threat has been definitively averted. Yet, much like the last Star Wars, the terrible threat of the late 1990s makes an unexpected comeback in 2020. As New Scientist notes, we can expect a series of bugs this year, such as those that have already affected New York parking meters and the WWE 2K20 video game. In both cases, the Y2K transition created a number of problems, preventing New Yorkers from paying with their credit cards on parking meters, when WWE 2K20 jammed past midnight as the first US states moved into the New Year.
Is there a Y2K bug? In fact, the problem would be directly related to the Y2K bug. Fearing that their infrastructure would collapse at the turn of the millennium, many companies had tried to minimize future problems by partially rewriting the way computers store dates, thus preventing the Y2K from bringing them back to 1900. To avoid the Y2K bug, an efficient and quick to implement solution had been found, called “windowing”. This solution consisted of processing dates from 00 to 20, starting in the year 2000, in order to avoid having the systems go back to 1900. As New Scientist reports, 80% of computers had been modified to do this in 1999 to get around the Y2K bug. The problem is that this solution doesn’t fix the bug, but simply shifts it to later, especially in the year 2020, since the coders would have chosen 1920-2020 as the standard window, in order to include the midpoint of Unix time, which starts on 01/01/1970.
“Fixing bugs in old systems is a nightmare: it looks like spaghetti and the people who wrote it are no longer around,” Paul Lomax, who managed the Y2K bug for US operator Vodafone, told New Scientist Paul Lomax, adding that “they assumed their systems would be long since out of order by 2020. Just as those of the 1960s didn’t think their code would still be there in the year 2000. “In concrete terms, if the transition to the year 2020 has caused computer problems, it is notably because the systems that had used this “bandage” suddenly found themselves… in 1920. This date problem would explain why payments have been refused, both on New York parking meters and on the cash registers of many merchants.
The next bug is scheduled for January 19, 2038 at 3 hours 14 minutes and 7 seconds. It is indeed at this date that 32-bit computers will run out of date storage capacity, and may end up in… 1901. The advantage is that, thanks to computers, you don’t need a time machine to travel back in time to the last century.