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Gore to Focus on Technology and Society in Speech

By Orli G. Bahcall

Vice President Al Gore plans to focus on the role of technology in society in his Commencement address, according to his Director of Communication, Lorraine Boles.

Gore "will talk about how technology is changing our world in both a positive way and some possible negative ways," Boles said.

Gore visited MIT about six weeks ago to get student and faculty input on the issues graduates face, as well and general ideas for his speech. He specifically asked graduating students for input about the impact that they think technology has on society.

Gregory A. Jackson, Director of Academic Computing for Information Systems, arranged a system so that the replies of students could be sent to Gore anonymously over electronic mail.

Gore also met with administrators including President Charles M. Vest and the Provost Joel Moses, as well as Jackson, and paid a visit to the Media Lab. "He wanted to talk about technology and its social role," Jackson said.

Gore was interested in how he could not only talk about technology but show its importance by making use of it during his speech, Jackson said. He considered several ideas but "ultimately it seemed that each one would prove enormously expensive" or hard to execute, Jackson said.

Instead, Gore went with a lower-tech path. "We thought of how he could pose questions to the students," Jackson said. "So we did a huge mailing to all of the graduating students and I collected responses and took names out of them" and made these available to Gore's Washington staff, he said.

While the technology required for this exchange was very simple, jackson said it was unique in that "in a fairly short time period there was a back-and-forth between a Commencement speaker and those he was talking to. This does not happen very often."

Some of the student comments "were extraordinarily thoughtful," and may well be useful in Gore's speech, Jackson said.

In one final effort to reach out to the graduating class, Gore plans to meet with a small group of graduating students before commencement early Friday morning to discuss issues faced in technology, Boles said. The students were selected and the meeting coordinated by the President's Office.