Happenings at the 2012 Supercomputing Conference

This past November, I attended the Supercomputing 2012 Conference in Salt Lake City. Each year, this conference attracts around 10,000 people from around the world and is the venue where many companies make big announcements about new products or capabilities.  The conference is jointly sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the two most prominent computer-related professional societies in the world.

This year, the Conference began with a keynote speech from Dr. Michio Kaku, CUNY physics professor and PBS/Discovery Channel futurist. Past keynote speakers for this conference included Al Gore, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

While Dr. Kaku discussed a range of topics from $0.01 computers (greeting cards that play music have as much computing power as the Allied Forces in WW2) to smart toilets, I was most taken by his appeal to the audience to step up to promote science and advocate popular and political support for scientific pursuits.

For example, the financial and human impact of the most recent “Frankenstorm” to hit the Northeast US would have been far more devastating without the advanced warnings and preparations made possible by data collected from satellites and weather models to predict the path and magnitude of the effect.  Yet when budgets are allocated to science and engineering projects like climate analysis, supercomputers, space programs, etc. we as scientists and engineers have shied away from delivering the message on the very practical and clearly economically beneficial results of the same past investments. NASA seems to be learning however, and now has a very active Twitter presence (@NASA), even having the Curiosity Rover wish a Happy New Year to Times Square.

Further, he painted a future where knowledge workers would be critical – that computing will fall into the backdrop of our lives just as electricity or water supply is now. To take advantage of such a world, we will need a much more computer-savvy workforce, and we need to begin promoting more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, particularly in computer science & engineering, earlier into our children’s education. He suggested we all get more engaged with our school boards, speaking out to our friends and relatives, and advocating to our elected representatives the importance and impact of science & technology investment on our prosperity.

A few additional events at SC12 have shifted this topic’s importance in my mind, particularly conversations with Debra Goldfarb (pictured with me below in the Enterprise captain’s chair.) On my panel on the Future of Manufacturing, we discussed the nature of manufacturing jobs in a world of 3D printers and additive manufacturing.

An Intel panel that included vocational and community college participants discussed workforce development and the needed pipeline of talent and student interest in pursuing careers leveraging computing, modeling and simulation as manufacturing shifts to computer-guided automation.  To expand the skilled workforce with computer programming aptitude, we need to reach students earlier in their studies to plant the seeds of that interest.

Intel invited Dr. Lazaro Lopez, Principal of Wheeling High School located northwest of Chicago to tell the story of the success of a public school integrating STEM into its curriculum with dramatic positive results on student success, confidence, morale, and in particular placement into jobs and colleges despite comparatively humble family incomes in the district. This school integrated into its community, partnering with local firms to offer hands-on work with tangible impacts – increasing the feeling of relevance of topics that often seem purely academic.

As a reader of Edison’s Desk, you must have a warm spot in your heart for Science and Engineering, as Project Lead The Way reaches more schools like Wheeling, and reflecting on the future needs for the workforce as computers blend into so many aspects of the world around us, perhaps we should all consider how we can be advocates of technology and in particular computer science and engineering in our schools, as a career to our young relatives, and the importance of programs like NASA to our common future.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be attending the Workforce Development Institute conference, focused around training high school graduates with the skills needed for future jobs, with clear emphasis on the prominence of STEM across traditional fields. My hope is such tools will help our kids and future generations live long and prosper.

Upcoming Blog Topics:
High Performance Computing: What does Exascale mean?
Cloud Computing: How to explain The Cloud to your Mom
And more Science-as-Art – stay tuned!