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Teen claims he has solved millennium bug

September 14, 1997
Web posted at: 1:24 p.m. EDT (1724 GMT)

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (CNN) -- A 14-year-old New Zealand boy claims he has designed a program to topple the world's biggest computer glitch.

The so-called millennium bug could trigger worldwide computer chaos at the start of the year 2000, foiling stock markets, government payrolls and telephone bills -- and just about everything else involving computers.

An example of how the bug could affect you
At two minutes after midnight on January 1, 2000, you place a call from New York to a friend on the West Coast, where it's still 1999.

If the telephone company's computer system has not been programmed properly, then you will be billed for a call lasting 99 years.

Computer analysts estimate that fixing the bug will cost between $300 billion and $600 billion. As many as 80 percent of all computers could be affected.

But young Nicholas Johnson, a conundrum-solving kid who has tinkered with puzzles since he was a toddler, says he has the answer. Johnson, however, is keeping his information under tight wraps and will not divulge how the program works, pending a patent.

"It is just great knowing that my program does exactly what I hoped it to do. And yeah, it's fantastic," he said. icon 96K/6 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Andrew Siddall, a computer analyst, has studied Johnson's solution and considers it a remarkable breakthrough.

"Nick has come up with something very clever. I've not seen anything like this yet," he said. "There's a couple of attempts I've seen on the Internet so far, but none of them solve the problem like Nick does." icon 160K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The problem dates back to the 1960s when computer memory was limited and expensive. Many software programs only used the last two numbers in the year, such as 97 instead of 1997.

Many of those programs are still being used in some older PC software and large mainframe computers -- used by government agencies, universities, Wall Street and businesses worldwide.

All such computers are vulnerable to this cyber-disaster -- but not if Johnson can help it. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on ...


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