Al Gore to keynote SC09: an exclusive interview with SC09 chair Wilf Pinfold

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SC09, the HPC community’s largest technical conference, trade show, and annual homecoming, has announced that Al Gore (yes, the Nobel Prize winning, Academy Award winning, US Vice President-ing, Albert A. Gore, Jr.) will keynote the conference this fall. And you thought that Michael Dell drew a big crowd last year. I talked with SC09’s General Chair, Dr. Wilfred Pinfold, about the selection of Gore and how he fits into this year’s conference.

“We try to pick speakers every year that will stimulate people’s thinking in a number of areas,” explains Pinfold. Previous keynote speakers have included entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Michael Dell, biologist J. Craig Venter, and inventor Ray Kurzweil.

This year the conference is focused around the theme of Computing for a Changing World, with program elements that highlight the supercomputing community’s contribution to the search for new forms of energy, understanding weather and climate change, and the technologies that will help our society build a more sustainable future. The conference has even adopted a sustainable philosophy for its own operations this year, and is looking for ways to make the event more eco-friendly.

Gore is a long time advocate of the power of technology and its transformative effects on our society. During his time in Congress (he served as both a Representative and Senator from 1977 through 1993) Gore was one of the Atari Democrats, a group of legislators focused on technological issues. Internet pioneers Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf have written of Gore that, “he was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship.” Gore also sponsored the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, a bill that created the National Information Infrastructure, and held the first congressional hearings on global warming.

Pinfold explains that the SC09 Committee’s goal in selecting Gore to keynote this year’s conference was not to push a particular technological or political agenda, but to find the person best-suited to ignite a global conversation about the role that supercomputing will play in addressing the many climate, energy, and social challenges facing our society. Gore will address the conference on Thursday morning, not on Tuesday as regular attendees might have expected. “The schedule was driven by the vice president’s availability, but ultimately we think it is a great move for the conference.”

The committee is anticipating a record crowd for the talk, and is making plans to address the heightened interest in the keynote. “We considered holding it in a larger venue, like the Rose Garden,” says Pinfold, “but ultimately we felt that would be too disruptive for conference attendees.” In addition to the 4,000 or so attendees who will be able to squeeze into the auditorium, Gore’s remarks will be streamed live throughout the convention center.

SC09 will be held November 14-20, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. Sponsored by the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, SC09 offers a complete technical education program and exhibition to showcase the many ways high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis lead to advances in scientific discovery, research, education and commerce. Recognized as one of TradeShow Week’s Top 200 conferences, SC09 will be the 22nd annual SC conference, with an expected 11,000 attendees. For more information on SC09, click over to


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  1. Is it too late to boycott SC09? Who in their drunkun stupor thought he would be a good keynote speaker?

    I definitely won’t be there for it.


    There, I’ve heard the keynote speech.


  2. While I would usually rather poke my eyeballs out with a spoon than purposely go listen to a politician, I actually think this is great. In response to Richard above, there are obviously extremes to the global warming debate – Gore on one side, saying we’ll all be dead in the time it takes to sneeze, and (amongst others) Inhofe on the other side, saying it’s all ridiculous lies. The great thing about SC09 is that climate modeling is a large focus of HPC resources in many places, so we’ll have knowledgeable people right there, people who see the nuance in the arguments, are familiar with the benefits and the limitations of the models, and who can probably discuss the topic pretty intelligently. Good stuff!

    In a nutshell, climate change does happen – the questions are how, why, where, when, what happens as it does and what’s the magnitude of the change. All very interesting, very relevant questions for the 21st century.

  3. John West says

    I think it depends upon which way he goes with it, which we won’t know until the talk. The direction I hope he goes is to cheerlead HPC’s contributions to the debate about solutions to all sorts of problems, including climate change but all frontiers of research in medicine, renewable energy, and so on. The products our community facilitates are vital to all (or nearly all) research disciplines affecting society today, and if he focuses on that and how we can better integrate with those research efforts it could be a great talk.

    At any rate, having someone of Gore’s caliber speaking at our conference will certainly give our community its own 15 minutes in the spotlight to make these arguments on our own behalf. I think this is a GREAT opportunity for supercomputing. I’m excited about it.

  4. Now, the big question is.. Can anyone measure the carbon footprint for the keynote?

  5. I think that despite the committee’s best intentions, this will read as a political speech. Given the overwhelming conservative nature of the field, this is not a good decision.

    I would rather have someone like Kurzweil again, show us why we matter, show us why our technology Will grow and give us some hope for the future. I don’t want to hear another person’s hidden agenda…Michael Dell was enough for me.

    Just tell me that he is not going to a room full of scientists why he is right.

  6. sorry..correction
    Just tell me that he is not going to tell a room full of scientists why he is right

  7. I don’t see this as a political agenda – and I don’t believe the conference organizers would have selected Gore on that basis. Whether you like him or not – whether you line up with him on climate change issues – or not – Al Gore has been a champion of technology innovation and the application of computing power for many years. He has many thousands of supporters throughout the HPC community – based on his efforts to champion legislation such as the Gore bill which has helped lay the foundation for a number of advanced computing initiatives. Understanding climate change is a key issue for many HPC scientists – and something that does in fact affect all of us in this community. This is the most highly visible keynote speaker the conference has ever had – and that is great for the conference. I applaud the organizers for moving this event up the ladder of mainstream recognition.

  8. In my opinion it’s a political decision. I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree with you Skip. Al Gores image has become nothing but an Evangelist for “Global Warming”

    He may in the past have done good things for this community. However in the last few years the only thing he’s done is preach his opinions on our climate. I’ll bet you donuts that within hours of his keynote speech there will be headlines saying “Even the top scientists running the fastest computers in the world are in consensus with Global Warming.” It’s going to be spun that way for political gain. That’s just not something that I would find good for this community.

    This is just my opinion.


  9. Wait… Al Gore… Didn’t he invent HPC? (Tongue planted firmly in my cheek)

  10. @FJW: I think UserFriendly said it best about Al.. 😉