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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #35      Copyright 1996 O'Reilly & Associates       December 5, 1996
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          Beyond Surfing
          Software Meltdown in the Year 2000?
          Sex on the Internet
    *** Imprisoning Criminals in Software (Stephen L. Talbott)
          Where are the deepest risks of intelligent technology?
    *** About this newsletter

    *** Quotes and Provocations

    Beyond Surfing

    Lifted from an advertisement for PointCast Network:
    Headlines move dynamically across the screen, the colors pop and all you have to do is keep your eyes open. Effortless. No surfing required.
    I guess they were right: computers will deliver us from the restrictive burdens of television. No more bothersome remote control. But do we have to keep our eyes open?

    Software Meltdown in the Year 2000?

    Reader Janice Gates wonders why NETFUTURE hasn't featured the "year 2000 problem." (This problem relates to the fact that much old and well-entrenched software uses just two digits to represent any given year and will therefore malfunction when the year 99 flips over to the year 00.) She cites a recent news story in which an expert sponsored by the Electronic Banking Economics Society predicted a 1 - 5 percent bankruptcy rate (among financial institutions?) due to the costs resulting from the programmers' shortsightedness.

    Gates says that sysadmin and programmer types of her acquaintance "are all adamant about the inevitability of this issue." One of them claims it is now "mathematically impossible" to rewrite or convert the old COBOL software that drives the banking system -- not, at least, in time for the bewitching hour at midnight, December 31, 1999, when your nest egg will turn into a pumpkin.

    If I have responded to this story over the past few years with more of a curiosity than an engaged keyboard, it is because (1) I've never looked into the problem; (2) I tend to have boundless faith in the technical ingenuity of programmers; (3) whatever the potential for a two-digit disaster in the year 2000 (and I don't dismiss it at all), I haven't been able to connect it in any noteworthy way to the fundamental, underlying challenges of machine intelligence that I believe will prove decisive for our future. The main article in this issue of NETFUTURE, dealing with a piece of software used for law enforcement, may suggest what I mean by "fundamental."

    Maybe, on the other hand, I'm just being obtuse, and someone will wake me up to the deeper issues here. In any case, Gates supplies a url for reference: www.year2000.com. She also mentions a CNN story dated October 13, 1996, "Experts Bemoan Denial o