Y2K: When clocks forgot to measure time


Late in 90’s, the computer scientist around the world noticed a problem with the programming of the clocks.  Most of the digital clocks were programmed in such a way that the last two digits of the year were taken to denote the entire year, i.e. the date 19 March 1993 would have been read as 19/03/93. The 93 at the end did not create any kind of problem, because people generally do not mention the century.  However this way of reading date was supposed to create problem from year 2000.

As for the year 2000, it was not just a year, but a millennium which was changing. Which mean that clocks which were programmed to read the last two digits of the year started reading year 2000 as 1900.  Publishing houses started calling it as the millennium bug, or Y2K. Was this a grave problem that the leader of the worlds had to sit and ponder about it? Well, Yes.

Because of the bug, all the interest rates on loans, forex rates, petroleum prices etc. would have been charged according to 1900s rates! In fact, the Y2K bug started creating problem for the credit cards companies, as the cards due in 2000 were being shown as expired. In 1997, Forbes published an article claiming that the millennium bug, if not fixed in time can cause a loss of 1 trillion dollar to USA alone. Like USA, all the countries who had embraced computers in there banking systems, were under the threat of similar consequences.

While several companies started fixing the bug on their own, in India, RBI entrusted the ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) to upgrade the systems at the bank branches. Members were provided with the upgrade, and since the core banking system was not in existences, the members were supposed visit each branch to check and fix the bug. ICAI, being the largest body of the financial professional in the country, shouldered the responsibility and issued guidance notes in order to educate the members. Later members were asked to mention in their audit report if the auditee organization was Y2K compliant.

These collective efforts bore fruits, and Y2K was fixed well before year 2000 and threat of banking disruption passed away, making ICAI and its member the unsung heroes.

Mrinal Pandey