Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
You may have heard about the Year 2000 problem--now less than 1,000 days away. This problem, which has to do with date compliance in computer programs, has become the focus of a great deal of attention and concern at institutions and companies around the world.
The problem is easy to describe. The date format that's in common use (in which 6/21/56 means June 21, 1956) won't be viable in the next century. Once we cross the 2000 mark, will 6/21/56 refer to 1956 or 2056?
One solution is to use four digits for the year. While this seems simple, the scope of reprogramming involved is enormous. All computers could potentially be affected--from desktop machines to major systems that MIT bought or implemented before the early 1990s. Some software will need to be fixed, and all systems will require some degree of testing.
Some people at MIT have already begun work on their systems. Others have been assured by vendors that the software they use is Year 2000 compliant--although in most cases, no one has verified these claims through testing.
IS has begun a project to measure MIT's exposure to the Year 2000 problem. Working in concert with the MIT community, project members will develop strategies and issue recommendations for bringing all of MIT's information technology (I/T) assets into compliance.
The results of the first planning phase are online at <http://mitvma.mit.edu/mity2k/planning.html>.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 1997.