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Online Y2K conference gearing up

Final preparations are being made for the launch of an online global conference on the Year 2000 technology problem, organizers say.

Final preparations are being made for Monday's launch of a first-of-its-kind online global conference on the Year 2000 technology problem, organizers said today.

In cooperation with a number of other international organizations, the Group of Eight (G8) is sponsoring the event, which is being directly supervised by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

As previously reported, the International Year 2000-Information Technology Virtual Conference is being touted as a forum for the international community to share problems, progress, and solutions relating to the Year 2000 bug. Organizers said they had planned to hold a traditional three- to four-day international conference in Europe, but decided to hold one single forum on the Web because of logistical limitations and time constraints.

The G8 consists of state leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The body traditionally holds yearly summits on the global economy, politics, and other international crises. In coordination with the GSA, the organization recently started the Group of Seven (G7) Government On-Line (GOL), of which the virtual conference is an offshoot.

The goal of the conference is to spark international partnerships and to stimulate global awareness about the Year 2000 issue, said Gary Winters, a senior policy analyst at the GSA and coordinator of the conference. "This isn't just awareness. It's encouraging a global responsibility for addressing the issue," he said.

"It involves a sharing of experiences and solutions to get the job done. It needs to be a collaborative effort," Winters said. "[The virtual conference] will help us know what we can do to pull together to solve the problem."

The format of the conference will be divided into four areas: Year 2000 global issues, which will be broken down into suggested Y2K business sectors and industries; a question and answer area to respond to specific white papers posted in the global issues area; a section for countries to submit progress reports on their individual Y2K compliance programs; and a collection of other Y2K Web sites.

Since April, the GSA has been getting requests from around the globe from economists, government leaders, and Y2K speakers who want to submit white papers and other material to the site.

Winters is in the final stages of compiling the 20 to 30 white papers to go up Monday morning.

Among the preliminary group of contributors is Irene Dec of the Prudential Companies, who leads one of the most widely respected efforts in tackling the very complex Prudential Companies environment; and Peter DeJager, an outspoken pundit on Year 2000 issues.

Winters also said he has submissions from others who aren't as famous but are working to address the millennium bug. "It's a site that's not going to be strictly for elitists."

Winters said chat rooms may be incorporated in the future, but he said he didn't want to encourage non-Y2K commentary. The site will be up and running up to and beyond January 1, 1999, he said.

The Year 2000 problem, or the millennium bug, stems from shortcuts taken by computer programmers in the 1970s and 1980s. The programmers tried to save valuable computer memory by abbreviating dates to the last two digits. Many computers still use this two-digit formula and are in danger of crashing when they enter the next century because they will interpret the year 2000 as 1900.

If computers are not reprogrammed, the consequences could be calamitous. Experts say the bug could shut down companies, jam communications, and even freeze world trade if it is not eradicated.

Winters said the conference is taking the shape of what he envisioned: a place where people can come and get information on the global significance of the Y2K bug, as well as a forum for people from around the world to share ideas and figure out the best ways to fix the problem.

So far he has been contacted by people in Bolivia, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, the United States, and Mexico.