Psy dances in his hit music video 'Gangnam Style' / YouTube

The problem that hit Gangnam Style’s hit counter could also bring down computers across the world

Your suspicions were right — Psy’s Gangnam Style could have been the harbinger of the computer apocalypse. But as long as we heed the warning that the video gave us, we should be OK.

The same problem that hit the Gangnam Style on YouTube — that the video had too many views for the site’s counter to continue to process them — could also hit the clocks that run many computers.

The problem for the video was that since the counter ran using a 32-bit integer, YouTube ran out of characters to count the views, which it does in binary. Computers use a similar system to count away from 1970 — when modern computers think of time as beginning — and will run out of space when the year 2038 arrives.

The problem would hit on March 19th, 2038, at 03.14.07am in the UK. That is 2,147,483,647 seconds New Year’s Day in January 1970, the ‘epoch’ — using up all the space that the clocks use to count. (That number is also the amount of views that Gangnam Style was approaching when YouTube moved to fix the problem.)

The Year 2038 problem has been compared to the fears about the Millennium Bug — the worry that computer clocks would be re-set when the year reached ’00. And the problems that were forecast before that event (that planes would fall out of the sky and computer systems would grind to a halt) could happen all over again.

But just as YouTube was able to fix the Gangnam Style problem by moving to a 64-bit system, if computers are upgraded by 2038 then the issue will be avoided. Modern computers tend to use 64-bit operating systems, and most should have been upgraded by that time — but if there are any left over, nobody can really be sure what will happen.

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