Albert A. Gore Jr., a part-time journalism professor at Columbia University, hacked the hackers in the Class of 1996 Saturday night at their fifth reunion dinner at Baker House.
Five years ago, when Mr. Gore was vice president of the United States, he was the guest speaker at the class's Commencement. Knowing that the vice president would focus on the technological revolution in his talk, the graduates greeted key words in his address with "Al Gore Buzzword Bingo" placards, teasing him for his use of jargon. It was an extraordinary hack.
Last week, Mr. Gore engaged in tit for tat, or a hack for a hack, if you will.
In a message that appeared on the Class of 1996 home page shortly before last week's Commencement, Mr. Gore said President Charles M. Vest had invited him to inaugurate a tradition in the use of "nostalgia and tradition" to foster a deeper relationship with the 1996 graduates.
"I am delighted to assist, and will be joining your class at your fifth reunion, and every major reunion thereafter (barring scheduling conflicts, and my calendar's pretty darn open these days)," Mr. Gore wrote, indicating that he would appear in person at the reunion dinner. "I hope that my participation can help encourage the kind of close relationship between classmates and the university that Tipper and I developed at Harvard."
At the dinner Saturday night, Mr. Gore and President Vest bantered via telephone.
After apologizing for not attending in person, the former vice president said:
"I was on my way on the information superhighway but got stuck in emerging traffic. I tried the parallel Infobahn, but now that it's user-driven and interactive, its effectiveness at interconnection is only virtual. As in the real world, the growth of e-commerce seems to have resulted in higher levels of e-sprawl, with a resulting decline in the e-quality of e-life -- and I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed. I was hoping to hook up in a more interactive environment, and was surprised to learn that the knowledge workers at MIT haven't yet managed to come up with a human-computer paradigm that can really make this a global village."
"I heard Chuck Vest was going to be a tertiary complier in this reunion event," Mr. Gore continued. "Chuck, has the class figured out yet that the legacy of their distributed hack isn't really going to haunt them in their reunion cycle?"
"You know, Al, we both get underrated for our sense of humor," President Vest said. "Younger alumni have indicated in a recent survey that their trust in the administration is already eroding -- and I'm a little concerned that this hack is only going to make things worse. Do you have any advice for me?"
"They're losing confidence in the administration?" asked Mr. Gore, who unsuccessfully opposed President George W. Bush in the 2000 election, which is why he is now a part-time academic.
"No, no," said President Vest. "My administration. It's V, not W."
"I do have some advice," said Mr. Gore. "I think you should focus aggressively on that Caltech/MIT election reform project."
In 1996, when Mr. Gore asked students to submit e-mail suggestions for his address, the hackers correctly surmised that his central theme would be "distributed intelligence." They came armed with many variations of the 25-square bingo cards, replacing the traditional numbers with IT jargon such as "critical technology," "information marketplace," "global information structure," "modeling" and "user-centered." The graduates crossed the buzzwords off their boards as Mr. Gore uttered them.
But the vice president apparently was in on the joke. When a cheer went up from Sloan School graduates early in his speech after he mentioned the management school, he paused and asked, "Did I say a buzzword?"
On Saturday, Mr. Gore concluded, "Let me assure you that I'm not really going to show up at your future reunions -- but I'll virtually always be there. Have fun!"
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 13, 2001.