IN LESS THAN a month's time, certain technology could start to behave in a very odd way. Why? Because the timestamp that older GPS devices use to track time resets every 1,024 weeks and we're on week 1,020.
That means that on 6 April, things could start to misbehave. In a bulletin written in September 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security wrote that "a nanosecond error in GPS Time can equate to one foot of position (ranging) error." Given that the time will be out by 19.7 years, that could be something of a problem, if you're a real stickler for accuracy when it comes for things like planes and freighters.
How worried should you be? Well if you're clever you may have quickly counted 19.7 years ago and come up with the date August 21 1999 - the last time GPS reset. You probably don't remember any serious problems occurring then, even though our best tech minds were pulling late shifts to dodge the Millennium Bug.
On the other hand, maybe very worried indeed: after all, GPS wasn't used half as much then as it is today. Bill Malik, Trend Micro's vice president of Infrastructure Strategies, told Tom's Guide: "Ports load and unload containers automatically, using GPS to guide the cranes. Public-safety systems incorporate GPS systems, as do traffic-monitoring systems for bridges. Twenty years ago these links were primitive. Now they are embedded. So any impact now will be substantially greater."
To be clear, this doesn't impact all GPS devices. Anything made in the past decade has got a longer fuse, using 13 bits for the week counter meaning a total of 8,192 weeks. That means your Apple Watch won't start misbehaving until 2137, when you'll be long dead (happy Monday!)
Malik said he wouldn't personally fly on April 6, just to be safe. Maybe that's one reason to be cheerful about planes being downed in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March, eh? µ
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