What is the Year 2038 problem?

Back in 1999, the threat of a technological collapse due to the dreaded 'Y2K' or 'Millennium Bug' caused widespread fear in society that the technological fault would result in computer systems moving to 1, January, 1900 instead of 1, January, 2000 after  31, December, 1999. This was because many computer systems had the year coded as two digits. 

This 'Effect 2000', which cost a number of billion pounds to fix, helps to explain the context of the ‘Year 2038 problem’ or ‘Y2K38’.  The 'Effect 2038' is just another 'bug' relative, in this case, to the coding of time in 32-bit systems (the clock system used), which could potentially affect operating systems in January 2038.

What is currently understood, by 2038, computers still operating with a 32-bit system to process date and time will no longer be able to cope with proceeding date and time changes. Similar to the Y2K bug, computers with the 32-bit systems will not longer be able to differentiate between dates, in this case - the year 2038 and 1970 (the year after all current computers measure time from). 

The basic problem is around a computer’s capacity to count the time in seconds past a certain date. As computers measure time in seconds from 1 January 1970, 03:14:07 UTC on 19 January 2038 is equal to 2,147,483,647 seconds after 1 January 1970. As 32-bit date and time systems can only count up to 2,147,483,647 separate positive values the system cannot continue counting the seconds past that time - hence the error.

At the moment the exact consequences of this issue are unknown. Seeing as there’s around 20 years to attempt to find a solution to the problem, it’s clear that experts still have time to solve this error effectively, without creating the panic that was generated with the Y2K issue or Effect 2000.  The ‘Year 2038 Problem’ will mainly affect the Unix operating system, on which both Android and iOS as well as many internet servers, Wi-Fi access points or routers are based.

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