20 years from now we’re expected to have another Y2K that’ll wreak havoc in computer networks around the world—and we know that thanks to “Gangnam Style.”
Oddly that catchy song from 2012 helped us realize that the computers we’re using would reach their ultimate capacity to compute calendar data after January 19, 2038. But this is actually very similar to what happened in 1999 when society feared the Y2K bug would crash all the world’s computers as we rang in the new year on January 1, 2000. People even thought planes would fall out of the sky. And although that didn’t happen, some computer systems did get messed up.
If you were alive and old enough to remember ringing in the new millennium, then you know that everyone was going crazy over the Y2K bug. The Y2K bug was just a problem with coding and dates. Computer programs from the 20th century were using two-digit codes to represent the year. So the year 1978 was recorded as 78, 1982 was just 82, 1999 was input as 99. Inputting just 2 digits in every computer file saved a good deal of space, and data space was at a premium. Then the year 2000 came around, and engineers realized that programs and software might not interpret 00 as 2000, but as the turn of the 20th century. So the date January 1st, 2000 would be interpreted as January 1, 1900.
And if computers can’t properly compute times and dates, that could cause a whole lot of issues for systems that have daily routines such as planes and trains running behind schedule, banks messing up daily interest rates, and power plants coming up with incorrect calculations that could put nearby residents at risk. But in the end, the whole Y2K problem turned out to be less disastrous than anticipated.
Experts believe 2038 will pose some of the same challenges. But instead of it being because of shortened dates, it’ll be because of 32-bit computer systems. Research claims that precisely at 3:14:07 UTC on Jan 19, 2038, systems running on 32-bit processors won’t be able to cope with the date and time change. This is because 32-bit computer systems started counting the time in seconds from January 1, 1970.
Data scientists suggest upgrading to 64-bit systems will fix any problems related to the year 2038. And that makes sense, because by the time 64-bit systems reach their ultimate capacity anyone watching this video today will be dead—our sun is going to die in the next 5 billion years. So nothing on this Earth will actually be alive.