Fright night

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 September, 1999, 12:00am

The end of the world is nigh! If it is not the millennium bug that will get us, it could be biological bugs that strike at the heart of the human race, as we are to find out tonight.

There is much speculation as to what may befall the world when computers attempt that difficult digital transition from 1999 to 2000, so the doomsday scenario depicted in the BBC's 'Disaster Special', The Millennium Timebomb (Pearl, 8.30pm), should not be a surprise.

This docu-drama looks at the various calamities that can befall an ordinary pensions manager when computers fail in key service industries, such as water, electricity, gas, transport, health, nuclear power and defence.

Trains will stop if signalling systems fail. Some predict that people will die due to malfunctioning medical equipment.

Some airlines have declared not to fly in the 12 hours after midnight. In Britain, at least half the 200,000 small businesses have not taken any precautions against the bug. Financial services could seize up.

The Millennium Timebomb suggests that the pensions manager's world could grind to a halt, although it acknowledges that this is not a certainty. Perhaps it is mere fodder for TV disaster programmes and movies.

January 1, 2000, may be like any other day. We will have to wait 118 more days to find out.

Ends Of The Earth: Killer Viruses (World, 10pm) is even less cheerful. It contemplates the end of the world as we know it due to the spread of a deadly disease.

It explores the possibility of the accidental elimination of our race by the spread of something worse than Aids or through deliberate destruction through biological warfare or terrorism.

Killer Viruses looks at the history of such viruses and warfare in the hope that we can be forewarned and history not be repeated. There has to be a silver lining in such a programme.

It is hard for people not technologically-minded to understand why the computer industry did not foresee and solve the Y2K problem years ago.

While the world awaits a possible disaster, those in the industry bask in their extraordinary wealth - not least of them Bill Gates - built through mastering Mr Gates' wares and in the futuristic wonderland of cyber-space.

Perspectives (CNNI, 9pm) introduces us to the new generation of Silicon Valley rich kids in The New Gold Rush. By designing microchips and trading on the Internet these people are making more money by the age of 30 than their parents ever dreamed of. But their cyber lives have done little for their social skills. New businesses have apparently sprouted on their need to learn how to eat with proper utensils, or to find a partner.

The new rich are interestingly contrasted with their neighbours - people living in trailer parks in Silicon Valley who have not learnt the difference between computer and corn chips.

Readers of yesterday's Arts page should note that the radio drama Looking For Stones will, in fact, be broadcast on RTHK Radio 4 at 10am on Saturday.