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Bridging the Digital Divide: The Remarkable Journey of Roscoe C. Giles, III

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Roscoe C. Giles, III, a prominent physicist and computer engineer, serves as the Deputy Director of Boston University’s Center for Computational Science. He holds a joint appointment in physics and is a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Boston University College of Engineering. Giles is known for his pioneering work in advanced computer architectures, distributed and parallel computing, and computational science.

His impressive career includes being the first African American to earn a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University. Since then, Giles has held key roles, such as SC Conference General Chair in 2002 and serving on the Boston University Board of Trustees. He also has been recognized with honors, including the A. Nico Habermann Award; multiple teaching awards; and is an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow (2019). He is a driving force in promoting diversity and excellence in computing research and leads the SC23 Keynote and Invited Talks programs, exemplifying his advocacy.

Humanizing Technology

In this I Am HPC profile, Giles shares his unique perspective, providing insights into his work as a prominent physicist and computer engineer, as well as his passionate mission to humanize technology and bridge the digital divide.

roscoe giles

Roscoe C. Giles, III

Professor, Boston University

Q: What single event most made you realize you wanted a career in HPC/computing?

Giles: Probably not really a single event but a sequence of high points spread over time. My first introduction to a computer was an IBM 1620 when I was in high school around 1963 or 1964. We programmed it in FORTRAN II. Everything (including the two-pass compiler) was on cards. Still, it did amazing things.

Working as a graduate student around 1973, I studied string-like models and used computer simulations (this time an IBM 360/91 at SLAC) to compute their oscillation modes and produce (simple) graphics.

My turning point (from physics to computing) arose with early massively parallel computers, particularly the Connection Machine, which we had at Boston University around 1990. I loved programming it in LISP (list processing) and mapping problems onto its hypercube communication network.

Q: What do you consider your biggest contribution to the HPC/computing community?

Giles: Not so sure. I did early work on massively parallel computer simulations in QCD (quantum chromodynamics) and molecular dynamics back when 1 million particles was considered a large problem. I also helped lead education and outreach efforts for one of the NSF (National Science Foundation) supercomputing partnerships in the late ’90s.

Another set of community impacts came from my work on the DOE (Department of Energy) Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee, which I served on starting at its founding in 2000 and through the start of the exascale computing initiative. I served on the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship steering committee for many years.

Finally, I chaired the SC02 conference over 20 years ago.

I would like to think that in some of these roles, I helped encourage Black and other underrepresented groups of people to engage with computing and HPC.

Q: In the past 35 years, what is the most significant overlooked breakthrough that has impacted the field in your eyes?

Giles: The vast improvement in software tools and the level of software engineering in the best of HPC systems. We are much better than we used to be in building composable, maintainable, testable software—and still probably have a long way to go :-))

Q: What would you like to see change about, within, or among the HPC/computing community?

Giles: The community needs to be more culturally diverse and embrace a wider range of perspectives, ideas, and problems. I love the theme of this year’s SC, which draws our attention to the human dimensions of our work and efforts.

Q: What would do you look forward to regarding the HPC/computing community?

Giles: As you probably have gathered, I have been around for a long time in the HPC community. I am very encouraged and proud of the current and future generations I see coming up in our community. I look forward to the ideas they will generate and the directions they will take us.

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