My Post-Y2K Scenario (Long) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Cory Hamasaki recently asked for contributions that examined a "fix on failure scenario." What will it look like? How will it be solved? This intrigued me because I believe that is exactly what we will face over the coming several years with Y2K (this, despite the many systems that will indeed be successfully remediated). I will address that in another post within the next week or so.

Though Cory did not respond to this submission (thats cool, he knows what he needs for the newsletters), I am taking the opportunity of posting it here. BE WARNED: it is very long.

It is impossible to sketch the consequences of a "fix on failure" scenario without drastically oversimplifying the systemic interconnections of the failures. Put another way, we are still too far away from the failures to make a host of specific predictions.

We can, however predict this: "strangeness" will characterize the entire situation. The ability to sense, analyze and respond appropriately to "strangeness" will determine the survival of individuals, families, communities, corporations and nations.

Systems that were declared Y2K compliant will break. Systems that seemed far behind will muddle through. Embedded system faults will ricochet across all systems. Both the essential resilience and brittleness of information structures will astonish the world, often simultaneously.

For instance, picture the likely course of international events during 2000-2005 in a world where utilities stay up but advanced military systems are rendered largely nonfunctional and raw manpower becomes the coin of power.

Or, imagine the reverse: dirty and unreliable power is the rule worldwide, yet critical military systems work fine when the power is "on."

Or, imagine a scenario in which the nuclear weapons of one power remain functional (Russia? Israel?) while those of others (America?) are neutralized by technical failure.

These strangenesses will be multiplied tens of thousands of ways across all nations and all industrial sectors in a bewildering combination.

I propose two criteria, arising from "strangeness", for understanding the risks and opportunities of the "fix on failure" world: the first is the relative efficiency of "communications" that remain or can be re-established in a timely fashion by a given entity.

The second is the differing "time zone" which a given entity may inhabit following Y2K failures (that is, one nation may regress to the 1950s, another to the 1970s, a third to 1910). The time criterion is actually far more subtle, since the intersecting set of sectors within a given locale (utilities, telecom, food, etc) may range across several time zones simultaneously.

First, communications.

Think of communications here from the most obvious (literal satellites, telecom networks, television) to the less visible (data exchanges between banking networks, medical devices or airplanes/airports). In other words, I am using "communications" as a metaphor for all exchanges of semantically useful information, whether air traffic control, ATMs, telephone conversations or the Yourdon forum.

Described thus, our current world is is characterized by continuous, ubiquitous communication. By contrast, the post Y2K world will be a world where communication breaks down to some unknown point (not unlike the devolution scenario of Infomagic but regionalized) and is then gradually re-established.

Under this scenario, entities (whether nations, corporations, communities or individuals) that can maintain or restore communications will recover the most quickly from Y2K failures and gain an extreme competitive advantage. In the case of nations, this could open up unexpected possibilities for seizing global power in the midst of a vacuum.

Maintenance or recovery of communication as I define it is not necessarily computer-centric although we will see restoration of computerized communication take place at an increasing pace as time passes.

However, from the point of view of the Iraqi or Chinese army, men transmitting signal flares may well provide adequate communication. From the point of view of a community, competent hams may meet the requirement.

Communication breakdowns will be complemented by worldwide experience of isolation and the spread of rumor. While actual experience will vary widely by location, individuals, communities and nations will experience something very similar to a nervous system breakdown.

Therefore, the most critical fix-on-failure task for the years 2000-2002, at least, will be determining which communication systems/protocols have made it through or can be cobbled together and which cannot be. This will be paralleled by the need to decide whether to rebuild according to the pre-Y2K model or create a new one. And, THIS, in turn, will be subject to rumor (whether accurate or not) of projects said to be taking place in other places, some of which will be inspiring, some challenging and others still, threatening.

The initial effect of the global isolation will be a greatly enhanced sense of community and mutual help, much of which will persist. However, a contrary dynamic for recentralization will assert itself for the purposes of restoring wider communications (signified here by rebuilding the supply chain, providing security and building trading advantage). Due to the inevitable weakening, at least initially, of national power, this may lead eventually to a central world government or, at least, to hemisphere-wide governments.

The time machine effect will interact with the communications breakdown to cause tremendous cultural disorientation and international tensions. Each country will experience different time zones for each of its major industrial sectors. This effect will be greater for first world countries and progressively less significant for second and third world countries.

While the first world will still have a significant advantage long-term, it will suffer greater time distortions short-term, temporarily flattening out at least some of the distinctions between nations. This itself will be a source of tremendous military temptation to ambitious, smaller powers.

For instance, if Germanys grid goes down for a long-enough period, it may revert effectively to the 1920s or before, while the UK may effectively exist at a 1970s level. Again, the interaction of various sectors suggests a more nuanced and subtle series of distortions.

The ability to fix a nations most critical systems on failure may determine that nations survival as an independent entity. It will certainly determine its standing in the world. For this reason, systems will be addressed in roughly the following priority (keep in mind that, taken as a sector, some sectors will be operational within one country and not another or, variously, crippled and retarded to differing degrees within countries or even regions inside of countries):

utilities and telecom

basic food and water supply


core industries to supply military (heavy mfg, automotive)


health care

everything else

The years 2000-2005 will probably be the most perilous internationally ever but certainly within the past century. That is saying something. Security considerations (that is, defense of the national entity), internal and external, will dominate all national activity. Countries distracted by internal issues, including loss of morale and cohesion, will be at extreme risk internationally.

Since morale will be essential, governments must tread a fine line between establishing appropriate internal controls without provoking civil strife that causes national break-up. Achieving this in the midst of rumor and localization as well as mistrust of national governments ("who lost Y2K?") will require extraordinary leadership.

If the petroleum supply chain breaks down, we can expect a high possibility of major war between 2000-2002 in the Middle East and/or Northern Europe and/or South America to establish needed access to this critical commodity. Access to commodities in general will be a huge source of international friction and a spur to alliance.

The relative ability to project power regionally and internationally will be key for all nations.

If the United States can still project power internationally, it may retain its current leadership position. However, at least in the short term, classic historic and geographical issues will come back into play (per the time zone effect). Americas relative isolation and distance from other continents will work to protect her (assuming the nuclear deterrent remains credible) but it will also work to restrict her influence.

We should probably expect an expansionary push from China against Japan and Asia as well as conflagration in the Middle East. Depending on U.S. capability, there could well be 500K U.S. troops stationed semi-permanently in the Middle East by mid-2001, to ensure access to petroleum.

However, accomplishing this in a post-Y2K world dominated by breakdown of central communication (and hence, command and control) will require spontaneous commitment from citizens and, much as in WWII, near complete dedication to the stated objective. It could well be questioned whether this will be possible. If it isnt, it may spell the end of America as a superpower.

More specifically, the U.S. government will seek to establish the patriotic duty of fixing critical military and government infrastructure systems (including the IRS, Medicare and others) as a support to the survival of the nation itself. Whether a national consensus will exist for this (or can even be produced, given the communications breakdowns) is questionable. Look for nations to enlist "national unity" leadership that involves the military (for instance, expect the possibility of a "Colin Powell" taking the reins in the United States). While most of the worlds nations are suffering under extraordinarily mediocre leadership, Y2K is at least as likely to produce world-historical figures as not.

Taking a computational view, some remediated enterprise systems will survive, although their ability to interact intelligently with other failed enterprise systems will compromise their functionality (in some cases, fatally). At the same time, keeping critical defense mainframe systems operational will be a top national priority. However, for business generally, the recovery will likely be led by simpler (even crude) PC-based networks favoring cottage industry programming.

Contrary to what one might expect, programmers will become even more critical than ever before. Their ability to cobble together working systems from existing ones and to thereby support restoration of communication at all levels will determine the survival of nations and smaller entities, at least in the first world community.

By contrast with the Infomagic scenario, I envision a splotchy pattern of devolution that extends to different levels in different regions but is not universal. Consequently, the world will offer great opportunities to those entities that have gone back in time the least and whose communication capabilities are strongest and tremendous peril to those entities that have gone further back in time and suffered greater communication breakdown.

Keep in mind that the scenario is instructive even if the elapsed time of Y2K failures in 2000 is measured in weeks, rather than months or years. That is, if America retreats to the 1930s for three months, while an adversary inhabits the 1980s, the entire world balance could shift permanently before America corrects its problems. Some, not all, Y2K misinformation and disinformation this year can be justifiably defended on the basis of protecting national survival.

This said, let me return to one of my opening statements: "we are still too far away from the failures to make a host of specific predictions." The only certainty is that this scenario will not take place as described. But I am more than reasonably certain of one thing:

For the next several years, above all, strangeness will rule.

-- BigDog (, February 17, 1999


This is a useful framework for looking ahead. Open-ended, flexible, realistic. Strangeness, surprises, and novelty. Well done.

Individual adaptability will define individual futures. As also will lack of adaptability.

Once the dust settles -- at some indeterminate point -- Western society may have distributed itself across a spectrum of solutions. Bunkers on the one end, ashrams on the other, with all intermediate positions occupied too. But I don't see a complete collapse, a la Canticle for Leibowitz.

And I expect to be mightily surprised.

-- Tom Carey (, February 17, 1999.

A good analysis. I would consider adding to it the following considerations:

First, the Y2K effect is currently underestimated by most government and media organizations. Each organization tends to view its own piece of the problem in a parochial manner. "We fixed our software, so therefore we will ride out Y2K with no significant problems." This mindset overlooks a couple of concerns, notably data stream encoding issues between internlinked information systems, JIT inventory instability, infrastructure instability, currency instability, and geopolitical instability (some of the latter may be addressed by govt. orgs., although firsthand information on this seems sparse, possibly due to the current govt. info "radio silence"). Another side effect receiving benign neglect from the analysts is the relative difficulty and lack of maintainability of the so called windowing remediation fixes. This could be fixed with object oriented techniques; however, retrofitting better fixes will take more time as organizations cycle through the 5 stages of quality management in this regard (first, recognize that a problem exists, etc.).

Second, I believe capital flow will be redirected away from areas of relative instability due to Y2K (eg so-called emerging countries) and towards areas which are perceived to be more stable (eg, potentially the US, as a relative leader in Y2K fix technology). I am not aware that the capital has any absolutely safe haven, and so it will by economic necessity seek the safest relative haven it can find. This means, if true, that Y2K will exacerbate the gulf between the have and have-not areas and countries, at least in the short and medium term.

-- Ann Y Body (annybody@nowhere.disorg), February 17, 1999.

What capital, Ann?

-- dave (, February 17, 1999.

I suspect China will pounce on Taiwan before they mess with Japan.

-- dinosaur (, February 18, 1999.

Dave wrote:

> What capital, Ann?

Most of mine, at least.

-- Ann Y Body (annybody@nowhere.disorg), February 18, 1999.

Well thought out, BigDog. The idea of "strangeness" and the "timezone" thing both make an awful lot of sense to me. You've defined "communication" in larger terms than most people tend to.

I've been an advocate all along that this whole thing would shake out in a way that no-one has imagined. I think you've expressed very eloquently an overlay that allows for a wide range of fluid possibilities. I've also thought that there would be "data islands" that would create opportunities for organizations and nations to bypass the current configurations of competition and enter the vaccuum left by their unremediated competitors.

I can imagine shifts in power that would seem unlikely if data streams were to continue as they are now. For example: (this is based purely on imagination)

The Cayman Islands and Bahrain become the new global financial centers

Finland becomes the new high tech manufacturing center

With the death of Hassan in Syria and the "removal" of Saddam in Iraq, King Abbdulah of Jordon turns out to be one smart cookie and defines the balance of power in the Middle East, Kurdistan emerges

The Republic of Texas becomes the seat of stability in the Western Hemisphere

Standard Oil purchases western Kazakstan, builds a pipeline from Baku to Sokhumi, the Black sea becomes the new Persian Gulf

you get the idea...

-- pshannon (, February 18, 1999.

At last, a return to clear, untainted thinking and logic! Thanks, Big Dog, makes a lot of sense. Ann, you're right--excellent example posted just today, where USDA, in a lengthy report on the food supply, COMPLETELY failed to take into account that there may be no fuel or what little there is will be prohibitively expensive.

-- Old Git (, February 18, 1999.

With respect to strangeness, one of the problems with timing the markets is the possibility raised on this thread that capital will continue to flow to U.S., even post-Y2K (depending on what is running in the markets). Capital flow is indeed a relative matter. This is why a market crash in states this year is not a done deal, even if panic begins to develop. ADVICE: Divest yourself of any overseas exposures ASAP.

PShannon --- some of your strangenesses are awesome; should we move to Texas? But this is exactly the kind of thing that may happen if Y2K goes TEOTWAWKI.

As another example, some Fortune 500 companies may become Fortune 20 companies: they're not all going to fail, even if GDP sinks for five years.

Anticipating strangeness is, arguably, what this forum has been all about so we can react to strangeness quickly, not just for survival (that's first, obviously) but to flourish in the years to come.

-- BigDog (, February 18, 1999.


Isn't the Black Sea polluted with lesser fish populations?


This move to Texas and other southern states will cause a massive demographic shift. Will Governor George keep his kewl?

-- dinosaur (, February 20, 1999.


"Anticipating strangeness" is too strange for my area in northwestern Ohio. Almost all citizens I've contacted, even TRUE Christians, acknowledge the Y2K warnings to the point where they say they're concerned, but they DON'T DO ANYTHING. Sometimes I wonder if I should keep my big mouth shut. But, IF I don't warn them, WHO WILL?

-- dinosaur (, February 20, 1999.

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