Human-Scale Supercomputing

By Michael Feldman

February 29, 2008

In this issue, I highlighted a recent commentary written by Prof. Hans Werner Meuer, who writes about the 15 year anniversary of the TOP500 project. Meuer did a great job at recounting the history of the list and provided some interesting anecdotes of his favorite machines. Although in the past, I’ve offered criticism of the list, in the feature article I focused on some of the more practical aspects of the TOP500 project that Meuer discusses. That includes using the list as a historical record for tracking the evolution of high performance computing over the last decade and a half, and to project its future.

One of the more positive effects of the TOP500 project — and one that Meuer doesn’t mention — is that it helps to popularize the notion of supercomputing to the wider industry and maybe more importantly, to the general public. While this might seem superficial, the twice yearly list at least provides valuable PR for the almost invisible HPC community.

Save for the occasional article in the mainstream media about how supercomputers have predicted climate changes or discovered some mystery of the universe, most of HPC is hidden from public view. The missing element in most stories about supercomputers is how they relate to the human condition at the scale of the individual. It’s not that climate modeling, derivative pricing or seismic simulations are not worthwhile applications. But linking supercomputing to personal applications would inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers.

Consider this. In Meuer’s 15-year TOP500 retrospective mentioned above, he talks about some of his favorite supercomputers, one of which was “Deep Blue,” the IBM machine that bested world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Arguably the most famous supercomputer ever built, Deep Blue ranked a modest 259 on the 9th TOP500 list.

Writes Meuer:

“This system, named Deep Blue, was installed at the IBM Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights and had a best Linpack performance of 11.37 Gigaflop/s; it was an IBM SP2 P2SC with 32 processors and a clock rate of 120 MHz. But the floating point performance was not what really mattered: Each of the 32 processors was equipped with 15 special-purpose VLSI chess chips. Deep Blue was the first chess computer to beat a reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. Ten years after this event, no chess player stands a chance against any kind of computer, not even against a simple home computer. One year ago, in November/December 2006, Deep Fritz played a six-game match against reigning world chess champion Wladimir Kramnik in Bonn. Deep Fritz won 4-2.”

The chess matchup inspired a book by Deep Blue’s designer Feng-hsiung Hsu, “Behind Deep Blue,” and a 2003 documentary, “Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine.” Since the machine was retired after beating Kasparov, no supercomputer has quite captured the public imagination the way Deep Blue did. Why? Almost everyone can relate to playing a game of chess, whether or not they have actually done so.

Contrast this with Meuer’s number one favorite, Intel’s ASCI Red, the first teraflop machine. Although, one of the most legendary supercomputers ever built, it’s almost unknown outside of the HPC community. This machine was used to provide simulation capabilities for nuclear weapons — an eminently useful task, but one not likely to be taken up by the average citizen (one hopes).

Software with elements of artificial intelligence (AI), like chess playing, constitute some of the most compelling computing applications to the public. And while AI and supercomputing might seem like a natural fit, for a variety of reasons, the two communities never really hooked up. Today, the AI field remains fragmented with a lot of competing paradigms and not much to show for it. Most of the work never made it out of the lab or the lecture hall. After 50-plus years of research, a lot computer techies sneer at the whole AI meme.

Yet it is these types of applications that have the potential to excite a new generation of technologists and motivate them to become involved in something more transformative than say quantum chromodynamics (not that there’s anything wrong with QCD groupies). The commercialization of AI could help place supercomputing back into the public eye. We’re not necessarily talking about “big iron” here. A lot of machine intelligence, though, will likely require massive levels of parallelism, in a tightly-coupled architecture (think manycore). Intel is currently developing a software model for terascale computing platforms that would enable such applications. Called RMS — for recognition, mining, synthesis — Intel believes this technology could be the basis for the killer apps of the next decade.

In Ray Kurzweil’s 1990 book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines,” he talked about a number of AI systems that would be developed in the 21st century. At a time when Pac-Man was the cutting edge in computer games, he described computer-generated animation twenty years into the future with uncanny accuracy: “Reasonably lifelike video images of human faces … completely synthesized and animated.” He also predicted the triumph of a computer over the top human chess player by 1998 — actually underestimating Deep Blue’s accomplishment by one year.

In his book, Kurzweil mentioned a number of other applications that have not yet come to pass, including the cybernetic chauffeur, the intelligent assistant, the intelligent answering machine, and the translating telephone. The latter is a machine that would automatically translate the language of the two parties as they spoke in real-time. The technology required to do so includes automatic speech recognition, language translation, and speech synthesis. All three existed at the time the book was written 18 years ago, but not nearly at the level of sophistication they are today. With the continued improvement in microprocessor power and software, it is certainly conceivable that such technologies will be incorporated into virtually every phone and phone-like device within the next 10 years.

The effects of ubiquitous language translation would be enormous. That single application would not only greatly accelerate economic and social globalization, it would also revolutionize travel. By today’s standards, Thomas Friedman’s “Flat Earth” would look annoyingly bumpy.

In the meantime, HPC will continue to be used for such tasks as saving the Earth from global warming, protecting the nuclear arsenal, and cracking the genetic code. But after that, the real fun begins.

—–

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputer Modeling Shows How COVID-19 Spreads Through Populations

May 30, 2020

As many states begin to loosen the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that have forced most Americans inside for the past two months, researchers are poring over the data, looking for signs of the dreaded second peak of t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

SODALITE: Towards Automated Optimization of HPC Application Deployment

May 29, 2020

Developing and deploying applications across heterogeneous infrastructures like HPC or Cloud with diverse hardware is a complex problem. Enabling developers to describe the application deployment and optimising runtime p Read more…

By the SODALITE Team

What’s New in HPC Research: Astronomy, Weather, Security & More

May 29, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DARPA Looks to Automate Secure Silicon Designs

May 28, 2020

The U.S. military is ramping up efforts to secure semiconductors and its electronics supply chain by embedding defenses during the chip design phase. The automation effort also addresses the high cost and complexity of s Read more…

By George Leopold

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI-based techniques – has expanded to more than 56 research Read more…

By Doug Black

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: IceCube, TACC, Watson & More

May 28, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC in Life Sciences 2020 Part 1: Rise of AMD, Data Management’s Wild West, More 

May 20, 2020

Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive enlistment of major HPC resources to fight the pandemic, it is especially appropriate to re Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Epyc Rome Picked for New Nvidia DGX, but HGX Preserves Intel Option

May 19, 2020

AMD continues to make inroads into the datacenter with its second-generation Epyc "Rome" processor, which last week scored a win with Nvidia's announcement that Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This