Sun, Jun 10, 2018 - Page 16 News List

New IBM supercomputer to beat Chinese record


The US has a new supercomputer and it is twice as fast as the current record holder in China. International Business Machines Corp (IBM) developed the Summit computer for the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory with help from Nvidia Corp.

The system cost about US$200 million to build, and is to occupy a warehouse the size of two tennis courts and be put to work on supercomplex calculations that could lead to breakthroughs in fields from astrophysics to cancer research, the lab said in a statement on Friday.

Summit also brings the title of world’s fastest computer back to the US. It comes as the race between the US and China for technological supremacy is being taken more seriously by US lawmakers, who are concerned about the billions China is spending on artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has taken an aggressive tone toward China, blocking the takeover of chipmaker Qualcomm Inc on national security grounds and accusing China of stealing US trade secrets.

“There is a direct correlation between leadership in this area and national security implications,” laboratory director Thomas Zacharia said. “Every country recognizes that being a leader in this field has downstream impact.”

Summit operates at a speed of 200,000 trillion calculations per second — or 200 petaflops in computer science lingo. That is more than twice as fast as the current record holder, the Sunway TaihuLight at the National Super Computer Center in Guangzhou, China, which runs at 93 petaflops. The third-fastest machine is also in China, operating at 33.8 petaflops.

IBM and Nvidia found ways to make the machine much faster, while only needing 30 percent more power than previous systems, Zacharia said, adding that Summit still needs the same amount of power it takes to serve a small town.

“There was a time when we thought a machine of this caliber would require a nuclear reactor right next to it to run it,” he said.

The computer is to use artificial intelligence techniques, such as machine learning, which allows software to pull out insights from large data sets to try and solve problems that have stymied previous systems.

Summit is to speed up projects that require modeling massive events with trillions of possible outcomes, like the physics of supernova implosions, or how climate change is affecting weather patterns.

The machine would also work on simulating new materials for superconductors that will allow computers to run more efficiently and at lower temperatures, and look at mitochondria in cells to develop early-warning tests for genetic diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, Nvidia’s vice president and general manager of accelerated computing Ian Buck said.

The energy department officially controls the system and who gets to use it, Zacharia said, adding that scientific projects would be chosen from open submissions and eventually private companies would be able to pay to have special access.

“These computers obviously offer those that have them the ability to innovate very, very quickly and have a competitive advantage,” IBM senior vice president of cognitive solutions and research John Kelly said.

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