Technology or psychology... : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

A question: will any Y2k problems that do arise consist more of distruptions from computers or from reactions to and/or fear of Y2k?

Let me give two absurd hypotheticals to explain the dichotomy I'm presenting.

In Alpha world, it is 1999 and no one on the whole planet knows a thing about y2k. No preparations are made. No one panics before hand, because as far as they all know its just another date change. January 1, 2000 rolls around and computers start to fail (more than in the real world, since no remediation efforts were made). Problems begin. People in Alpha respond (again, this is a hypothetical) by immediately doing whatever it is they do on non-date dependent systems, at least to the extent that the date dependent systems don't work. They respond rationally and use all efforts to address the new found situation. It was a purely technical glitch, albeit a widespread one; but overall the citizens of planet Alpha adjust to use non-date dependent methods as rapidly as possible.

Clearly, even with our hypothetical rational residents of Alpha, there will be disruptions. Perhaps their air traffic control doesn't work, but after a while, they will remember that planes were once directed by radio and chartboard (perhaps, though, not before crashes of flights throughout the world on January 1...). Alpha is an example of a purely technogy based y2k failure.

In Beta world, on the other hand, people panic. They know that Y2k is going to cause tremendous havoc in computer systems worldwide. They know that, despite best efforts, computer remediation will fail. Uniformly. Everywhere. They realize that, since financial institutions will fail like everything else, they must pull their money out now -- not just individuals, but also business enterprises and governments. Demand for certain long term durable goods skyrockets (as does price) due to the impending doom. People shift investments, panic about basic necessities.

Only, unbeknownst to the Beta residents, there really isn't a y2k problem (again, this is a hypthetical). January 1, 2000 rolls around, and every computer system on the planet functions just as well as it ever did. Again, clearly there is disruption.

My question: will it be the technology (Alpha world) or psychology (Beta) that creates more disruption? Of course it will be a bit of both, but which will predominate? What will cause more problems: the computer problem that causes the truck not to ship on time (although it is fixed with a radio message to the shipper) or panic that the truck is not coming (even though it is)?

-- jim d (, April 22, 1999


Along this line,..and I do not dispute your premise at his point, must do a search, and read, E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops". It is available online in its entirety...Let us know what you think.

-- Donna Barthuley (, April 22, 1999.


Why did the Technology cross the road?


-- Critt Jarvis (, April 22, 1999.


-- Tom Carey (, April 22, 1999.

First of all, Alpha world, hypothetical as it is, would not be able to resort to "non-date dependent methods", it would devolve relatively quickly into an Infomagic scenario where the carrying capacity would be reduced to a fraction of its present level.

Secondly, Beta World, now that we have past the point in time where we could have had "controlled panic", is pretty much a given for the real world. However, unlike your example, we will have actual damaged code, and a substantial amount of it.

So realistically, I think a better question would be what would be the difference in outcome if the panic occurred in:

Jan 1990 (with an economic correction/depression)
Jan 1998
Jan 1999
Apr 1999
Jul 1999
Oct 1999
Jan 2000 (probably not possible this late)
If we would have had a depression in 1990, I think we would actually be better off now, because we would be in a recovery phase. Just as forest fires are more severe now that we are so good at controlling them, the upcoming panic is going to be more severe because modern money "scientists" have created a much more volatile situation than at any other time in history (this will be the topic of an upcoming article by Infomagic in Cory's WRP; the higher the market goes, the farther it will crash, and the closer it happens to Y2K the worse both will be)

I think by Jan 1998 the die was cast for a major economic panic. Business cycles are not cycles unless they cycle, and the energy tied up in this one is enormous.

And then comes y2k...

-- a (a@a.a), April 23, 1999.

One could argue that the assumption that Alpha world will lack psychological responses is invalid because the assumed separation of "technology" and "psychology" is based on the invalid assumption that the "rational" and "irrational" in people are actually distinct. Either the Alphas are all digital automata, or they have psychology. Is not the idea of "disruption" a psychological one?

If the Betas have no technological sense, where'd their computers come from? If they have technological sense enough to have constructed computer systems extensive enough that malfunctions thereof threaten significant disruption, some (the computerists) will apply the same intellectual skills that enabled them to construct computers to the issue of scouting out and remediating Y2k, won't they?

-- No Spam Please (, April 23, 1999.

Whoops, forgot to answer your question.

>Of course it will be a bit of both,

Inseparably so.

>which will predominate?

Depends on your definition and measurement of predominance. It can be either way -- which way do you want/fear/are-accustomed-to-having it to be? Bias your definition toward the psychological aspects of the problems, and you get psychological predominance. Vice versa for technological.

-- No Spam Please (, April 23, 1999.

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