Like Any Bug, the Y2K Problem Knows No Boundaries

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One of the underlying themes of the Senate Y2K report released this week is how interdependent the world has become. While the report stressed that there is no cause for panic in the United States, there will be some disruptions, particularly in matters that relate to foreign countries. That is no small issue, says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell, "because we now live in a globally linked economy." Manufacturers relying on raw materials from overseas could find their supply links broken for a while as a result of a 2000 computer glitch. Or businessmen in New York may find themselves unable to close a deal if, say, the telephone system goes down in India.

The impact will be uneven and haphazard because the state of technological development around the world is uneven and haphazard. Ironically, says Dowell, "Third World countries are the most likely to be resistant to the Y2K bug" because they still largely operate in a computerless environment. Technologically advanced countries, meanwhile, are the most likely to stay atop of the problem. "It is the middle level countries -- those starting to use automated systems -- that will be the most vulnerable," says Dowell. That includes a huge swath of the world -- places like China and Russia, Eastern Europe and the Arab world. What's more, says Dowell, because some of these countries such as China, have been active in the software piracy front, they are the least likely to own up to their activities and seek help in keeping their systems running come January 1.