From Y2K to 2038, Lessons Learned from First Computer Crisis

The Y2K bug threatened to wipe out computers and disrupt modern society at the end of the 20th century. We all remember the doomsday hype, but what really happened?

It’s hard to imagine in these days of smartphones, iPads, and Google Glass that something called the Y2K bug threatened to topple technology, upset the economy and wreak general havoc at the close of the 20th century. But it did. Survivalists bunkered down. Preachers predicted the apocalypse. And ordinary folks wondered if any of it was real.

Was it? Was the Y2K bug a genuine threat – or just a hoax? And what did it all mean? To get some answers, Retro Report tracked down key players in this millennium drama – like Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster, author and consultant who first alerted his clients to the Y2K issue in the mid-1980s; and John Koskinen, the government’s Y2K czar, who directed the battle against the bug. They provide a riveting look at the problems then – and the implications now. We better get our ducks in a row because the 2038 bug is coming our way (maybe).

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At Retro Report, we update our journalism as news unfolds. Here are the previous published versions of this story.
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  • Producer: Joshua Fisher
  • Editor: Bret Sigler