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Actual Y2K Glitches

May 27, 2020 32.3k views16 items

As the new millennium approached, a thing generally referred to as the "Y2K bug" or "Y2K glitch" raised fears of a catastrophic collapse of computer systems all over the world that might cripple governments, financial organizations, and businesses large and small. The alarm was based on the idea that many computer systems were designed to recognize dates by its last two digits - 1999 being recognized by "99," for example. The thought was that these systems would be unable to correctly recognize "00" as being the year 2000 when the date changed over on New Year's Day. In order to try and avert this catastrophe, billions of dollars were spent (around $100 billion in the US alone) to try and make computer systems Y2K compliant.

Years later, we recognize the threat of Y2K causing some sort of apocalyptic event was way overblown. There were hundreds of Y2K glitches caused by computer system failures. But while some - such as pregnant women being given incorrect test results - were of a serious and/or long-lasting nature, the majority of the glitches were resolved quickly.

  • US Spy Satellites Stopped Working For Days

    As Y2K approached, there was reportedly significant worry within the United States' intelligence community that the celebrations surrounding the new century could be tainted by terrorist activity. Determined to be as prepared as possible, a computer patch meant to avert any potential Y2K glitches was put into place.

    But instead of averting glitches, this computer patch ended up turning the data being sent from five US spy satellites into a garbled mess that no one was able to decipher. The glitch, which occurred in an intelligence program called "Talent Keyhole," took about three days to fix. Pentagon spokesperson Susan Hansen stated:

    "The outage diminished capacity for a while ... a couple of days, but backup procedures were put in place almost immediately."

  • The NHS Sent False Down Syndrome Test Results To Pregnant Women

    As a result of a Y2K bug, more than 150 pregnant women in the United Kingdom may have received incorrect results from a test for Down Syndrome. From January 24 to May 4, 2000, the PathLAN system at Northern General Hospital, which was responsible for processing the results of the tests given to women at nine hospitals in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and the East Midlands gave these potentially incorrect results out.

    According to a U.K. government report, the computer system incorrectly calculated the ages of the mothers-to-be, which meant many of the women were incorrectly told their babies would be at low risk for contracting Down Syndrome. If the ages had been correctly calculated during a routine screening, the women would have been identified as having high-risk pregnancies and would have had the chance to get a more conclusive amniocentesis test earlier in their pregnancies. 

    Four of these women are known to have later given birth to Down Syndrome babies, while two others terminated their pregnancies.

  • Some Slot Machines In Delaware Went Haywire

    Computers reading the date as January 1,1900, rather than January 1, 2000, was a very common Y2K glitch. In Delaware, around 800 slot machines shut down because of this date malfunction.

    At least 150 of these machines were located at racetracks. According to John A. Koskinen of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, these slot machines shut down because their software had been programmed to look three days ahead.

  • The US Naval Observatory Temporarily Didn't Know What The Date Was

    The US Naval Observatory was established in 1830 and has been the official timekeeper for the country since 1845. But for 45 minutes on New Year's Day 2000, the observatory's millennium countdown website incorrectly listed the date as January 1, 19100 in the time zones that had already entered the new century.

    This glitch, which the Navy described as a "bump in the road" and a "black eye," didn't affect the official master clock in Washington, DC.  Navy spokesperson John Fleming stated the glitch was caused by an error in a JavaScript written in a programming language that wasn't Y2K ready.

    "This really is a non-problem," Fleming said. "It was almost like a typo that was fixed within 45 minutes [after it was discovered by a technician] at about 1:30 or 1:45 am.''