Y2K Bug Could Produce A Russian Bill Gates, Or...

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The millennium bug may give rise to a generation of Russian computer wizards who could follow in the footsteps of the world's richest man, Bill Gates -- at least, that's what the optimists think.

But pessimists argue the computer glitch could lead to a meltdown at nuclear energy stations or maybe even give Moscow's military a signal to launch missiles against the United States.

The only thing experts can agree on is that the problem, however threatening, has to be treated before the clocks hit midnight and the computers click from 1999 to 2000.

``There is not a full understanding of what might happen in 2000,'' said the lower house of parliament's representative for communications, Alexander Ivanov.

``Essential measures need to be taken for those systems that work on real-time -- financial services, transport, statistics -- where a casual approach will just not do.''

He said a government commission was sitting every month to work on the problem, under the leadership of Ilya Klebanov, deputy prime minister for the military industrial complex.

But while many Western observers continue to criticize Russia's belated efforts to make sure that computer systems do not go haywire by mistaking 2000 for the year 1900, Ivanov believes the problem could have a happy ending.

``(The millennium bug problem) has provoked such fuss that for the last half a year you would think we had magnates like Bill Gates working (here in Russia),'' Ivanov told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

The Microsoft chairman is ranked the richest man in the year by Forbes magazine with $90 billion, a sum just short of Russia's Soviet-era debt, put at about $100 billion.


Russia's lack of money to solve the problem is one of the West's main concerns.

Many in the West fear that Russia, still mired in financial crisis, has failed to give enough attention to tackling the bug, which stems from the once common practice of using only two digits for the year in dates, like 97 for 1997.

That shortcut has the potential, when dates change in 2000, to confuse computers and microchips, causing them to produce flawed data or to crash.

Lawrence Gershwin, national intelligence officer for science and technology, recently told a Senate special committee on the 2000 technology problem that Russia's economic problems combined with the Y2K glitch could cause major problems.

``The coincidence of widespread Y2K-related failures in the winter of 1999-2000 in Russia and Ukraine, with continuing economic problems, food shortages and already difficult conditions for the population could have major humanitarian consequences for these countries,'' he said in a statement published on the CIA's web site.

Gershwin said Russia could face a loss of power next winter.

``Russia has exhibited a low level of Y2K awareness...While the Russians possess a talented pool of programmers, they seem to lack the time, organization and funding to adequately confront the Y2K problem.''

Russian government experts have said the country needs $2-3 billion to tackle the millennium bug. Military officials say they have under $4 million to spend on upgrading the nuclear arsenal's computer brains.

By contrast, the U.S. state of Texas alone is spending $280 million to fight the bug.

Klebanov agreed that funds were tight but said he was positive the problem would be fixed.

``Work is proceeding fruitfully, but as always there is not enough financing,'' he said. ``Russia expects nothing terrible.''


But the West is still worried that Russia's Soviet-designed nuclear plants and military systems will experience computer breakdowns in 2000.

Gershwin said internal components or sensors crucial to the operations of nuclear plants could be affected or degraded by Y2K problems.

He said the problems could lead to power losses and the shutdown of reactors. If a computer controlling power production fails, there would have to be diesel generators to supply power to cool pumps and remove heat from the core of the plant.

``These diesel generators must have adequate fuel supplies on hand for at least a week in order to prevent fuel meltdown,'' he said. Russia would need money to prevent this from happening.

Gershwin along with other Western experts is also worried about Russia's military complex. But he shrugged off frequent suggestions that the Y2K bug could trigger a missile-launch.

Russian military officials also say there is nothing to worry about because automatic control systems governing Russia's nuclear missiles are immune to the problem.

``I apologize in advance if I fail to justify the hopes that there may be among you for an apocalypse if we do not solve this problem,'' Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin said earlier this year at a news conference.

``The calendar date does not exist (in control systems).''

-- y2k dave (xsdaa111@hotmail.com), July 11, 1999


Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin....

Also a noted expert in computer science and embedded systems?....

-- Lane Core Jr. (elcore@sgi.net), July 11, 1999.

Not mentioned is the enormous "brain drain" Russia has suffered over the past decade as the best and brightest (students, athletes, and most notably its top scientists) have left the country. This will have a considerable impact on Russia's ability to to fix "anything" of consequence!

-- (snowleopard6@webtv.net), July 11, 1999.

``(The millennium bug problem) has provoked such fuss that for the last half a year you would think we had magnates like Bill Gates working (here in Russia),'' Ivanov told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Just half a year of fuss is not going to cut it.

-- number six (Iam_not_a_number@hotmail.com), July 11, 1999.

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