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Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK


Millennium bug busters set for action

The Millennium Bug could affect chips in every electronic device

The government is to unveil its first team of Millennium bug busters trained to combat the threat to thousands of computers at the turn of the century.

Education minister Kim Howells is due to meet with trainees who are part of a £26m government project to provide the training required to overhaul computers so they are not prone to the Millennium bug.

All computerised equipment, ranging from household appliances to life-saving hospital equipment, which does not recognise the date 2000 could fail.

Computers read the date by the last two digits and experts have predicted that thousands will fall foul of the bug unless they are overhauled to recognise the new century.

[ image: Kim Howells will meet trainees dedicated to solving the problem]
Kim Howells will meet trainees dedicated to solving the problem
They believe the unprecedented double zero will either mean nothing to the chip, or, if it is sophisticated enough, it may decide it is 1900.

The bug busters scheme was announced by the Prime Minister in March this year but critics claim there has not been enough time to train them effectively.

Experts have also warned that time must be left for testing whether systems will cope with the Millennium problem, which will strike at the end of 1999.

The ministerial visit will act as an opportunity for the government to get the bug-busting message across to the business community.

The government is already utilising the network of Business Link offices across the country to make small and medium sized firms, its main target, more aware of the issues.

The training scheme aims to provide grants of £1,300 to up to 20,000 people.

[ image: Computers used in hospitals could be affected by the bug]
Computers used in hospitals could be affected by the bug
In April, the Science and Technology Select Committee published a report on what it called "a challenge without precedent".

A publicity campaign on the same scale as the famous Aids awareness campaign of the mid-1980s was required to educate the public about the year 2000 problem, the report said.

Immediately prior to the report's publication, the Prime Minister announced a multi-million pound programme of awareness and training, which one expert called a "world-leading" initiative.

It has been estimated the overhaul could cost £31bn in Britain alone.

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