The “Next Apocalypse” is Coming in 2038

It’s fascinating to witness how people associate calendar turnovers with the end of the world. First in 2000 when the hysteria was about the two digit representation of years and recently about the rundown of the Mayan long count.

December 21st marked the first day of the 14th b’ak’tun – which actually isnt’t a turnover date for the long count. As an almost base-20 system it will spill over the day after (October 12th, 4772).

Turnover is a common problem with all long count-like systems. And although the Mayan calendar’s turnover doesn’t really present any issues (except some doomsday hysteria), we have a calendar whose turnover will present some problems: the UNIX system time.

Part of the POSIX standard, this time representation counts the number of seconds elapsed since January 1st, 1970. For signed 32-bit representation the turnover date is January 19th, 2038.

Most current systems are transitioned to a 64-bit representation, but several legacy and embedded systems will need to be modified or replaced during the next decades.

And I’m sure lots of doomsday prophets will associate this date with the end of the world, while we computing professionals silently solve all the issues before the turnover – just we did before 2000.

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