Doomsday predictions can often seem two a penny, with the end of the world lurking around every corner. But we have survived the turn of the Millennium, and even the Mayan calendar that predicted the end of the world in 2012 has been proven wrong. However, there is an issue on the horizon that means there is a chance in less than 25 years, the world will be ending. In technical terms, at least.
The year 2038 problem
You may not have heard of it yet but the year 2038 problem is likely to be big news over the next few years. In a nutshell, the problem centres on how computers count. All computers regard time as having started on 1 January 1970, also known as the epoch, and count time in seconds from then. In order to process numbers and run all their essential calculations, many computers use 32-bit processors. However, at 03:14:07 UTC on 19 January 2038, computers will have counted 2,147,483,647 seconds since the epoch began, which is the maximum number that they can process. Essentially, computers will not be able to tell the difference between 1970 and 2038, an issue often referred to as the new Y2K bug.
How are we affected?
One of the first people to draw attention to the issue was, oddly enough, Korean pop sensation Psy. Yes, really. Whilst his hit Gangnam Style might make you wish for the end of days, the incredible popularity of the video showed the potential Y2038 problem in action. YouTube were then running a 32-bit system, but so many people wanted to see the video that the website’s processor was unable to count the number of views. Moving to a 64-bit system rectified this. Companies (and celebrities) are always seeking to boost rankings with SEO content, such as Kim Kardashian’s recent attempt to break the internet with a photoshoot. Not being able to count views or tell the correct date may not seem like the biggest problems, but the wider impact on technical infrastructure could have more significance and result in issues for equipment that uses embedded systems.
Should I panic?
In a word, no. After we survived Y2K, many in the industry were accused of scaremongering. The truth is that without all the behind-the-scenes work, the impact of the date change could have had a significant effect. However, firms were prepared and had taken steps to ensure that things would function correctly. Although there is currently no one particular solution to the Y2038 problem, there is plenty of time to prepare. If you use a digital marketing firm such as http://digi-tel.co.uk/, they can advise on any potential Y2038 issues likely to arise from your SEO-driven marketing campaign. Over the next few years systems will be routinely upgraded, moving to a different size of processor. Various patching options are being investigated and by the time the problem rears its head, most systems will be unaffected.
So whilst the Y2038 problem may be touted as the end of the world, at least technologically speaking, it hopefully won’t be. With plenty of time to prepare, even larger infrastructures should be ready to face this challenge.