Y2K - The Millineum Bug - Lawyers and Software

As the clock draws us relentlessly closer toward 2000, the final 
year of the second millennium, doom sayers everywhere are prophesying 
unprecedented computer failure in every conceivable sector.

Cost estimates of fixing this bug range well into the billions of 
dollars, with the likely threat of at least that much money again 
incurred in protracted legal fees due to real and alleged damages. 
Because of these devastating cost projections, corporations and 
government are mounting pressure to secure legally binding statements 
that all software they use is warranted to be year 2000 compliant. 

As you might well guess, this pressure often stems from lawyer-wary 
insurance companies, who quite reasonably fear death-by-litigation 
even more than they might the effects of costs of actual, incurred 
damages. To defend themselves against legal perils, organizations 
all over the world are rushing to secure, in all possible haste, 
affidavits to the effect that such-and-such software is year 2000 
compliant.

They intend to brandish these as some sort of legal shield when the 
inevitable chaos strikes, righteously proclaiming themselves free 
of Y2K taint and redirecting lawsuits toward the signers of the 
aforementioned documents. 

Remember this: if someone asks you to warrant that your software is 
free of year 2000 bugs, they're really just looking for an excuse to 
sue you if they misuse your software, even if it should happen to be
their own fault. Probably they've already forgotten the terms of their 
software licence, one which probably read something rather close to 
the following: 

  IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR DISTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE TO ANY PARTY 
  FOR DIRECT, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES 
  ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, ITS DOCUMENTATION, OR ANY 
  DERIVATIVES THEREOF, EVEN IF THE AUTHORS HAVE BEEN ADVISED OF THE 
  POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE. 

  THE AUTHORS AND DISTRIBUTORS SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIM ANY WARRANTIES,
  INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF  MERCHANT-
  ABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND NON-INFRINGEMENT. 
  THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED ON AN ``AS IS'' BASIS, AND THE AUTHORS 
  AND DISTRIBUTORS HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE MAINTENANCE, SUPPORT, 
  UPDATES, ENHANCEMENTS, OR MODIFICATIONS. 

Did you ever stop to wonder just how long an automobile manufacturer 
might survive government scrutiny with such an anti-warranty? Why 
should software manufacturers be any different? Somehow, though, 
they do appear to be. Whether such things survive the courts in 
the litigational feeding frenzy certain to ensue in a couple of 
years is something that remains to be seen. Don't count on anything. 

The anxiety about the Y2K situation is reaching an increasingly 
feverish pitch in most large organizations. Every few days, you read 
something else in the popular media forecasting certain havoc. Nearly 
all these reports are peppered with vague prevarications or technical 
confusion. That's not to say that there isn't a real issue here, and 
that we can go pretending there's nothing to bother ourselves with. 
There certainly is. But what that problems stems from, and what can 
be done about it, is something usually misunderstood at best. 

The gravest lie about Y2K matters, is that your company can, through 
the acquisition of affidavits of compliance, protect itself against 
harm, whether real or litigated. It can't. This faith in legal 
documents is hollow and in fact dangerous. The wisest course of 
action is for you to immediately disabuse yourself of this deceit. 

The insidious, underlying root cause of this entire problem is 
neither the hardware nor the software. No, that would be too easy; 
that we know how to fix. Just apply a few hundred billion dollars, 
and voilą, it's all taken care of. 

Unfortunately, that's not it. The real problem is the wetware. That's 
right: the defect lies not in our computers, nor in their programming, 
but rather in ourselves. It doesn't matter whether the programs are 
compliant, because the humans using them are not! 

Fixing the programs is certainly a necessary step, but far, far from 
sufficient. You can certify every single program in existence, and it 
still will not be enough for safety. Until such time as the teeming 
billions of people in this world -- or even just the many millions 
using computers -- are all similarly certified, and warranted not to 
forget, there can be no safety. And that's not going to happen. 

To seek legally binding statements that a particular program 
cannot be intentionally or unintentionally misused is nothing 
but a witch hunt doomed to fail in its ultimate goal of protecting 
you and yours. You cannot help that there will always be 
cluefully-challenged users and programmers out there, or even
persons of clue who occasionally have a memory lapse. You cannot 
find them, you cannot blame the tool or language, and you cannot 
protect yourself from them. Every time a human being thinks about 
a year in terms of just two digits, the problem reasserts itself. 

   And no one has yet figured out how to fix the wetware.


The phenomenon of UFO doesn't say anything about the presence of intelligence in the space. It just shows how rare is it here on the earth. - A. C. Clarke -