In 1970, Hollywood produced a film (Colossus: The Forbin Project) detailing how two supercomputers, one in the United States and one in the Soviet Union, get together and take over the world. It's love at first byte.
As we near the year 2000, there's a similar disaster scenario awaiting. Computers again threat-en to wreak havoc on mankind. This time they're the catalyst for destruction because they fall asleep. Shades of a Star Trek episode.The people who designed these wonderful time-saving devices overlooked what they obviously felt was a small detail: the ability to tell time beyond the year 2000. The unknown is not something computers handle very well. They'll either shut down on Jan. 1, 2000, or go back in time to 1900 and make us all wish they had shut down.
A lot of people are taking it very seriously. Some are even giving it apocalyptic status.
A guest on a local radio talk show said the computer fiasco will be so bad it will usher in the mark of the beast - yes, the situation described in the 13th chapter of Revelation ("And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name," Rev. 13:17). People will plead with the government to save them, and a system will be set up whereby they have microchips implanted in their skin.
That type of scenario is not pleasant to contemplate. Actually, there is someone doing something to see that it doesn't occur, to in a sense provide computers with No-Doze. The name of this present-day Luke Skywalker? Bob Bennett. As in Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah.
Bennett has been on a crusade to warn people of the seriousness of the year 2000 debacle. The good news is they're starting to listen. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is announcing today those who will serve on the Special Committee on Year 2000 Technology Problems. The chairman is Bennett. The bad news is there's not enough time to solve the problem.
"We have a limited amount of time and no way to get any more, and a limited amount of people," Bennett said in a phone interview.
Because of limited time and limited personnel, Bennett is basically taking a surgical strike approach. He's targeting areas that are vital to keep the country running. Other areas will be addressed after the year 2000.
In no particular order, these are the areas the committee will commit its resources to:
1. Telecommunications. "British Telcom will not guarantee a dial tone outside Britain and the United States after 2000," Bennett said. A worldwide communications breakdown would be frightening.
2. Transportation. This includes airlines but also rail. "If manufacturers can't get their goods on time" it could be disastrous, Bennett said. "Even truck transportation depends on computer activities" and "some airlines have announced they won't fly New Year's Eve 1999."
3. Power grid. "A large percentage of power plants have systems with computers that could fail."
4. General government services. This includes IRS refunds, welfare checks, state and local government systems, police departments, fire departments and rescue units.
5. Banking systems. This involves all the monetary activities - checks clearing, electronic deposits, etc. This was the catalyst for Bennett's involvement. Financial institutions are taking it seriously. Citicorp is spending $600 million and Merrill Lynch $300 million to fight the problem.
6. Manufacturing itself. A multitude of companies depend on computers. If they can't make their products there will be massive layoffs and tremendous economic disasters, Bennett said. That in turn will put tremendous pressure on the welfare system.
"It could trigger worldwide recession and in some countries, not this one, a depression," Bennett said. "I think it's inevitable there will be serious disruptions overseas." Europe is behind the United States in being prepared to deal with the problem. Asia is behind Europe and South America behind Asia, Bennett said.
Bennett is optimistic the United States, by targeting "mission critical systems," will avoid catastrophic consequences.
His parting words were these: "You better hope somebody upstairs walks down to the presses (on New Year's Eve 1999) to make sure they work."
Now wait a second. Having no food, money, electricity, transportation or communications is one thing. But no newspapers? Was that part of the senator's mission critical list?