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
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
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
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 -