September 1, 2000

by Steven Witucki, assistant editor


The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) was awarded $45 million from the National Science Foundation to provide “terascale” computing capability for U.S. researchers. The award is based on PSC’s proposal to provide a system installed and available for use in 2001. The brain of the proposed six teraflop system will be an interconnected network of 682 Compaq AlphaServers not yet available. PSC will install an initial system with a peak performance of 0.4 teraflops by the end of this year. The six teraflop system will evolve from this system. “Compaq is looking forward to working with the National Science Foundation and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and we are committed to the success of the terascale initiative,” said Michael Capellas, Compaq’s president and CEO.


The Supercomputer Marketing Promotion Division of NEC Solutions announced receipt of an order for a 1.28 TFLOPS scalable parallel vector (PVP) supercomputer. The system is an SX-5/128M8 that will be installed at the Cybermedia Center of Osaka University in Japan. This 128 processor system will not only be the largest PVP ever delivered, but will also be the largest-scale system installed in Japan. Based on today’s Top500 List of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, this system will be the 5th most powerful. The Cybermedia Center is a collaborative organization established to provide the core of the educational and research environment needed for leading-edge data processing technology. This order makes 65 total SX-5 supercomputers ordered worldwide with 30 being in Japan.


The Pentagon has bought one of the world’s most powerful computers to help it better predict weather, design airplanes and do other complex research. Officials at the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) and International Business Machines Corp. said the $18 million computer code-named “Blue Wave” is the most powerful supercomputer ever bought by the Department of Defense and the fourth-fastest in the world. Steve Adamec, director of the computer center at NAVOCEANO, said the IBM RS/6000 SP’s ability to do modeling and simulation will help design aircraft and ships, as well as model the ocean’s waves, currents and temperature to better forecast weather patterns.


Scientists demonstrated that a quantum computer can actually work in the real world – and may outdistance even the fastest supercomputers. Experimenters at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose said they had used “the world’s most advanced quantum computer” to solve in a single step a mathematical problem that would take a conventional computer up to four distinct steps to handle. It was described as the first experiment to confirm theoretical predictions earlier this year that such a feat was possible. The research is aimed at surpassing current silicon-based computer architecture by taking advantage of some of the seminal findings of 20th century physics, in particular the notion that the same subatomic particle can exist in two seemingly opposite “quantum states.” IBM scientist Isaac Chuang, leader of the quantum computing project, outlined the results on August 15. “This was the first time anyone has done a computation using a 5-qubit molecule,” Chuang said. “The trend is that the theoretical projections about quantum computing are being realized, one by one.”


The U. S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Compaq Computer Corp. announced a nearly $200 million contract for delivery of the world’s fastest computer to the department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The computer is part of the NNSA’s Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI). The ASCI machine, to be named “ASCI Q,” will be a 30 teraOPS (trillion operations per second) machine with 12 trillion bytes of memory, and it is expected to be operational in early 2002. ASCI Q is the latest advancement in the NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, which uses science-based methods to assess and certify the safety, security and reliability of nuclear weapons without underground nuclear testing. “The nation’s security mission historically has required the fastest computers available and now has, once again, accelerated the evolution of technical computing,” said NNSA Administrator General John A. Gordon. “Our new partnership with Compaq will give us an exceptionally powerful system for developing the simulation capability needed for Stockpile Stewardship. The ASCI simulation milestones recently achieved also show what dramatic advances in simulation capability can be achieved by skilled and dedicated teams using terascale computers.”


Conoco announced the installation of the largest and most powerful Intel-based geophysical computer available in today’s petroleum industry. The new supercomputer integrates cost-effective Intel chip technology, the Linux operating system, advanced tape robotics and 10 terabytes of massive hard-disk storage – enough to hold the entire U.S. Library of Congress – with Conoco’s proprietary seismic processing software. The Intel cluster will provide approximately 0.5 teraflops (trillions of floating point operations per second) of computing capacity at dramatically lower cost than conventional supercomputers. The supercomputer and its accompanying disk farm are located in Conoco’s seismic computing facility in Oklahoma. However, the machine is designed so that it can be accessed from almost any Conoco location. Sub-clusters can be placed in any office location or aboard offshore seismic vessels worldwide to allow real-time processing of seismic data during the field acquisition stage.


A computer programmed to follow the rules of evolution has for the first time designed and manufactured simple robots with minimal help from people. The 8-inch automatons did not take over the world or even vacuum the lab. Instead, they crawled across a tabletop, exactly as they were digitally bred to do, said Jordan Pollack, a Brandeis University computer scientist. Ultimately, the Darwinian approach could revolutionize everything from manufacturing to space exploration. “Down the road, if we could have a thing like this in space, you could send the building blocks and let them evolve themselves,” said Yoseph Bar-Cohen, director of a robotics lab at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “That would be fascinating.”


Do you remember Deep Blue, the supercomputer that in 1997 won a chess victory over Garry Kasparov? Apparently many people do. The computer has earned a celebrity “Q Score.” The Q Score is a measurement used by advertisers and the media to evaluate the level, nature and trajectory of the popularity enjoyed by potential spokespeople or characters. Deep Blue’s score is on par with celebrities such as CNN host Larry King, radio personality Howard Stern, former “Baywatch” star Carmen Electra and MTV’s Carson Daly. Deep Blue narrowly beat such celebrities as comedian Gilbert Gottfried and breakfast cereal character Count Chocula. Go figure.


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