ARCHIVAL (YOUTUBE):MAN: 1:50 Lets fast forward to Tuesday, January 19th, 2038. 0-3-1-4-0-7 UTC.

NARRATION: The internet is buzzing about a potential computer apocalypse called the Year 2038 bug.

ARCHIVAL (YOUTUBE):MAN: 00:00 The year 2038 will cause every modern computer to stop working if we dont prepare for it.

NARRATION: Its a tech time bomb that could affect computers and smartphones that year, and may or may not have disastrous consequences. Sound familiar?

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-2-98):FORREST SAWYER: Its called the Y2K, or Year 2000 bug. Its a problem that some fear could cripple the nation.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, 1-2-00):PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Now this is not one of the summer movies where you can close your eyes during the scary parts.


NARRATION: While computer experts had known about the Y2K bug since the 1960s, it wasnt until the 1990s that their fears became increasingly public.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 12-30-99):PETER DE JAGER: I mean, this is the biggest, dumbest, stupidest, most idiotic blunder in the history of technology.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 3-4-98):PETER JENNINGS: You see that YY right there? Thats the year in two digits. 1998 reads only as 98 to a computer chip.

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 4-14-96):REPORTER: Come the year 2000, many computers will assume 00 means the year 1900, back to the future.

PAUL SAFFO (TECHNOLOGY FORECASTER AND Y2K AUTHOR): Programmers only used two digits for two reasons. One, they didnt have a lot of memory space for their programs. And secondly, they never imagined their software would last as long as it did.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-12-98):CHARLES GIBSON: We got specifics today on how ill-prepared Americas computers are for the year 2000.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-12-98):JOHN COCHRAN: Today a Senate panel reported that up to 40 percent of the country could be hit by power failures on New Years 2000 because computers get confused.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-12-98):SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: You wouldnt want to be in an airplane, you wouldnt want to be in an elevator, and you wouldnt want to be in a hospital.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 3-4-98):ED YARDENI: There is a significant risk, a 40 percent risk, of a global recession.

NARRATION: By 1998, President Bill Clinton moved to quell the fears by creating a Council on Year 2000 Conversion. He put John Koskinen, a high-level government administrator, in charge.

JOHN KOSKINEN (PRESIDENTS COUNCIL ON YEAR 2000 CONVERSION): The cry went up from the hill that the administration was not paying enough attention, there was not a coordinated effort. And there needed to be somebody in control. I only halfway facetiously said, the President gave me an office, an assistant and said, Dont let the world stop.

We knew finance and telecommunications systems were going to be the ones most at risk. But also the FAA had a legitimate problem. IBM sent them a letter that said, these systems wont work when the transition comes and theres no way to fix them. Social Security had 50 million lines of code. Its a mind-boggling number to think about, and that was replicated.

NARRATION: Embedded computer chips in everything from VCRs to power plants were also thought to be vulnerable.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 3-4-98):JAMES WALKER: The life of this baby depends on computer chips, theyre embedded in the machines that monitor his heart rate and the question is, will they work on January 1st, 2000?

NARRATION: On the nightly news, reporters scrambled to translate the scale of the problem into simple terms.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 3-4-98):GINA SMITH: Imagine someone told you you had to find and replace every bolt in the Brooklyn Bridge. Thats daunting but doable. Now imagine that you have to find and replace every bolt in every bridge in America and then the world, and you only have 21 months to do it.

JOHN KOSKINEN: The easy to understand risk was that the system stops. The more insidious risk was and thats what worried people about their bank account is the system keeps running its just got bad data. The fix to the code was fairly simple you just had to go through and every place it said two digits you had to give it instructions to say four.

NARRATION: But poring through reams of old software code to find each and every date reference was a labor-intensive process.

PAUL SAFFO: We simply did not have enough programmers in the United States who could do this. One of the surprises of the Y2K problem was it gave a boost to outsourcing software work to India.

JOHN KOSKINEN: We were becoming increasingly interconnected. So, fixing just part of the problem wasnt going to help you if everybody else wasnt fixing their part of the problem. So on the one hand youd like to declare a national emergency to make sure the small, medium-sized companies, everybody in the supply chain pays attention. But the minute you do that, youre going to panic the public.

ARCHIVAL (BRITISH PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT):ANNOUNCER: The millennium bug will affect every business in the UK.

JOHN KOSKINEN: In the spring of 1999 the British put out a big public warning.

ARCHIVAL (BRITISH PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT):ANNOUNCER: If you rely on any form of technology, this issue affects you.

JOHN KOSKINEN: It was always a concern to me that the panic would spread. Because once you start warning people and scaring them, its a little hard to get them off the ledge.

NARRATION: By the fall of 1999, Koskinen was promoting a different message. He was sure that his team would successfully orchestrate a fix for the Y2K bug.

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 11-15-99):ANDREA MITCHELL: Are you really confident that youre all ready?

JOHN KOSKINEN: Were confident that the basic infrastructure of the United States is going to function effectively.

NARRATION: But by the time Koskinen got the message out, the American psyche had already been invaded by another kind of bug.

PAUL SAFFO: The bug in our cultural software our beliefs about the millennium were much more serious than the technical problem.

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 12-30-99):REPORTER: This is usually a slow time for Hinkley Springs, but not this year. Their retail business doubled. And delivery to homes and offices: up thirty percent.

JOHN KOSKINEN: The risk by the last six months of 99 was thered be a run on the bank, thered be a run on gas, thered be a run on food. That was as big a concern for us as anything.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 10-20-98):DAVID BROWN: Surf through the Internet these days and you keep coming across a strange new word: TEOTWAWKI. The word stands for The End of The World As We Know It.

ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 9-23-99):GUN STORE OWNER: Thats a sound that gets your attention real quick.

NARRATION: By the fall of 1999, news stories reported a spike in gun sales, scammers preying on a confused public

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 10-23-99):JANET HUTCHISON: He said, yeah Im calling from Bank Boston, and I need to get decals mailed to you so you can put them on your credit card, or they wont work after Y2K.

NARRATION: and survivalists taking extreme measures in anticipation of the millennium.

ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 5-21-98):JAMES WALKER: Gary North has his own natural gas well. He says its his ticket for survival.GARY NORTH: That cheers me up!

NARRATION: And for thousands of Americans, the millennium evoked fears of a coming apocalypse.

ARCHIVAL (Y2K: A CHRISTIANS SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE MILLENNIUM BUG, 1999):JERRY FALWELL: I believe Y2K may be Gods instrument to shake this nation, humble this nation, awaken this nation and from this nation start revival that spreads the face of the earth before the Rapture of the Church.

PAUL SAFFO: American society has a very deep well of belief in the imminent end of the world, and the three zeroes triggered all of that. Everybody saw in the Y2K tea leaves whatever it is they wanted to see.


ARCHIVAL (CNN, 1-3-00):JOIE CHEN: The arrival of Y2K did not bring the much anticipated and feared computer meltdown. It appears to have been more of a prankster than a real problem.

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 1-1-00):ROBERT HAGER: Things couldnt be going more smoothly, so smoothly some are even asking if all that preparing was necessary.

ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 1-1-00):DR. RAY LUCAS: Certainly the flu bug has affected us much more than the Y2K bug, which I think is probably nonexistent.

PAUL SAFFO: You never get credit for the disasters you avert especially if youre a programmer and nobody understands what youre doing to begin with.

JOHN KOSKINEN: We have sort of a lack of confidence that things can get done. People did not grasp the magnitude of the effort. The easier thing to keep in your mind was, all that noise about it and nothing happened, it must have just been a hoax.

NARRATION: The Senates final report on Y2K found that government and industry did successfully avert a crisis at an estimated cost of $100 billion. But was the response excessive? One research group estimated that government and industry overspent by nearly thirty percent.

JOHN KOSKINEN: My answer to people who said well they wasted a lot of money was the number of things that happened, that went wrong, that fortunately were around the edges, demonstrated that if you didnt fix the systems it wouldnt work automatically.

NARRATION: There were some minor glitches after Y2K, but it turned out not everything needed to be fixed, including most embedded chips. Looking back on Y2K today, Koskinen sees enduring value in the systems put into place to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

JOHN KOSKINEN: When 9/11 hit on that Tuesday, financial markets were able to open the following Monday because in 1998 and 99 they had developed tests and scripts for testing all the interconnections and all the trade data between all of the major players. Without that ability to test systems and make sure the markets and every transaction could open and close with all of the counterparties, it would have been weeks before the financial markets would have been able to comfortably open.

PAUL SAFFO: We have little Y2Ks happening all the time. Technologies are always created for one reason but end up being used for an application that the creator could never imagine.