Editors' Cuts

Gore: Systems Define Our World

Bill Kenealy
Insurance Experts' Forum, June 6, 2011

Even his harshest critics will acknowledge that Al Gore has considerable insight and wide interests.

During his keynote address at the 2011 Insurance and Accounting Systems Association conference in Nashville, a reliably wonkish but engaging Gore touched on everything from Moore’s Law to Minnie Pearl while pondering the impact of technology on the insurance industry.

llustrating the speed at which technology advances, Gore noted that today’s iPad2 packs as much computational horsepower as the world’s most powerful supercomputer, the Cray 2, did a quarter century ago.

The former vice president of the United States and 2000 Democratic nominee for president noted that Moore’s Law has held steady for decades and has catalysed the dissemination of knowledge as much as any invention since the advent of the printing press.

This is the rule, posited in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors incorporated into a semiconductor would double every 18-24 months,

“There are now a billion transistors for every man, woman and child on the planet,” Gore said.

Gore also brought to light a lesser known theory, Metcalfe’s Law, which holds that the value of a communications network increases proportionally to the square of the number of people connected to and using the system.

This is important, Gore said, because both capitalism and democracy are reliant on the free exchange of information. “The systems that define our world are based on the democratization of knowledge.”

Describing himself as a “recovering politician,” Gore – who has not held public office for more than 11 years now -- largely bypassed the political issues of the day.

However, he did delve into climate change and its impact on the insurance industry.

He noted that a warming atmosphere can carry more water vapour and may leader to fewer but more destructive storms. AIR Worldwide noted Monday, for instance, that the storms and tornadoes that swept the United States in the single week of May 20 to 27 caused somewhere between $4 billion and $7 billion of insured losses to automobiles, buildings and their contents.

“The destructive impact of wind increases with the cube,’’ Gore said.

Moreover, referencing historic the floods that besieged Nashville the prior year, he said that insurers will need to re-examine some longstanding assumptions as extreme weather events occur with greater frequency.

“When you get several 100-year events in the same decade, you wonder whether actuarial tables need to be changed,” Gore noted.

The Minnie Pearl joke?

A farmer is driving his cow to town and crashes into a ditch. As he is laying along the roadside in great pain, a Sherrif happens by.

The sherrif gets out of the car and shoots the cow to put it out of his misery. He then asks the man how he's doing. The man says "I'm doing fine."

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