Al Gore: Supercomputers can reverse climate change

Gore says supercomputing can be killer app in climate change

Gore's appearance in Portland, which also included a speech to a general audience Wednesday night, was greeted by protests and some vandalism. At the SC09 conference, media members were told they were not allowed to view Gore's speech in person, although some did make it into the room where he was speaking and the rest were allowed to watch him on live video feeds. Gore spoke to the supercomputing audience for an hour and 20 minutes, noting that he attended the very first supercomputing conference in 1988, and that he was scheduled to speak at the 1997 conference until vice presidential duties called him away.

"I'm very grateful it only took you 12 more years to invite me back," Gore joked.

Much of Gore's speech seemed tailored to a general audience, but he did spend a good amount of time discussing supercomputing despite admitting that "I'm the person in the room who knows the least about it."

"One of the pieces of legislation that I look back on with the most pride and satisfaction was the establishment of the supercomputing centers and the information superhighway, and the national research and education network," Gore said. "In a very real way, supercomputers drove the evolution of the Internet because the task of connecting the large machines in order to make it possible for teams to work together without being physically present in the same building was really what led to the higher bandwidth connections that then modeled the incredible value of having high speed data transfer networks. What your community's work did decades ago really has been responsible for the revolutionary transformation of the world's information infrastructure."

Gore compared climate science with Moore's Law, which describes the long term trend in which the number of transistors that can be placed on a circuit doubles about every two years.

Now, there are nearly 1 billion transistors for every man, woman and child on the planet, Gore said. But Moore’s Law is not really a law of a nature as much as it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that is continually successful because of the research dollars and time devoted to chip research, Gore said. If sufficient funding and research is devoted to solving climate problems, a similar law could be applied to photovoltaic energy and other renewable sources of power, he said.

"Moore's Law is not a law of physics, as you well know," Gore said. "It is a law of self fulfilling expectations. If we make a choice to switch the source of energy powering our civilization, then that perception of a vast, fast growing market will once again drive a sharp cost reduction curve for technologies like photovoltaic energy. Again, a law of self fulfilling expectations. It seems like a simple choice to me, although it's not simple to execute. We are now totally reliant on dirty, polluting, expensive, vulnerable, insecure carbon-based fuels and we have an opportunity to make a generational, one-off investment to transform our energy system to new sources that rely on fuel that's free forever."

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Jon Brodkin

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