High-Tech in an Anti-Intellectual Culture

By Michael Feldman

April 25, 2008

“Over 75 percent of Americans don’t know they’re alive.” I half expect to see such a headline someday as yet another example of how poorly educated the U.S. citizenry has become. It’s not quite that bad yet, but research has consistently shown us how uneducated students and working adults are in this country. The data reflects not just a lack of education, but a lack of commitment to intellectual pursuits.

Therein lies a problem for the U.S. high-tech industry. Although the nation remains the leader in information technology, it has become increasingly dependent upon the scientists and engineers in other countries to feed its high-tech habit. Recent studies released by the Council on Competitiveness (which I cover in this issue) concludes one of the three major barriers to greater use of high performance computing is lack of human talent and expertise in the U.S. A number of other reports, including the landmark Educational Testing Service study, “America’s Perfect Storm,” also point to the disconnect between our tech-dependent economy and the lack of math and science education.

Why should this be so? The hard truth is that, in the U.S., there’s a cultural contempt for education that underlies our seemingly modern society. Its origins can be traced back to the birth of the nation when we broke away from our “elite” European forbearers. The modern version of this contempt is apparent in our political and religious institutions, many of which have become not just anti-science, but also, more generally, anti-intellectual.

Exhibit number one is the Bush regime, with its antipathy towards science and its embrace of religious fundamentalism. The federal “No Child Left Behind” educational policy is based on rote learning, not critical thinking. This approach has been promoted on the right side of the political spectrum for a while. Intellectuals are derided as “liberals” or “elitists” — which are synonymous in conservative-speak. Essentially, it’s the sin of knowledge, where a certain level of education or even a progressive attitude towards learning is disdained.

In a Wall Street Journal blog post this week, Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” explains:

“It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people, confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market….”Elitism” is thus a crime not of society’s actual elite, but of its intellectuals.”

Fifty-plus years ago, Adlai Stevenson was the prototypical Democratic “egghead” who was relentlessly punished for his intellect by his political adversaries. During one of his presidential campaigns, a supporter assured Stevenson that he was certain to “get the vote of every thinking man.” Stevenson allegedly replied: “Thank you, but I need a majority to win.” He lost both his presidential bids, the first in 1952, and then in 1956.

Ironically, it is often Ivy League-educated conservatives who promote this elitism meme. More disconcerting though, is that the left is beginning to play into this intellectual bigotry. The recent Democratic battle for the President is turning into a kind of reality show popularity contest for relating to the common folk, where drinking whiskey and bowling have become essential campaign activities. The conventional wisdom for pols: hide your intellect from the citizenry, lest you make them feel inferior.

That might help explain why the 2008 Science Debate was replaced with the Compassion Forum right before the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. The Forum was basically a discussion about the religious views of the candidates. While I’m up for a good conversation about morals and spiritual beliefs as much as the next guy, it was unfortunate that one of the moderators felt compelled to ask Senator Obama if he “believed the Earth was created in six days.” What good is that little nugget of information for qualifying the next leader of the Free World? It’s depressing enough that we aren’t allowed to have a presidential candidate who doesn’t profess his or her belief in a supernatural being, but why do we feel the need to embarrass them with unanswerable theological questions?

It would be great if the aforementioned Science Debate was rescheduled. (There is talk of it being moved to Oregon for its upcoming primary in May.) I’d be interested to hear the candidates’ views on where science and technology fit into their world view. I’d love for some candidate to make a case for putting science and education at the front of the discretionary federal budget rather than at the rear. It also might be a good venue to suggest to the electorate that the pursuit of knowledge is more patriotic than wearing a flag pin and more fulfilling than watching America’s Next Top Model.

In an op-ed piece this week, Bob Herbert of the New York Times wonders why there is not an education discussion in the presidential campaign. At a time when globalization is bringing increased competition and U.S. educational performance is nose-diving, Herbert laments that “no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.” Summing up, he concludes:

“While we’re effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that.”

So far, we’ve managed to delay the worst effects on our economy by importing technological talent at a record clip. If you look at the personnel roster of any U.S.-based technology firm, you’ll quickly grasp how thoroughly internationalized these companies have become. But if the majority of the natives fail to keep up educationally and economically, the whole model will likely collapse.

Without a fundamental change in the culture, the U.S. science and technology community will be relegated to pursuing its agenda as a special-interest lobbyist, against the backdrop of a disinterested citizenry. This is pretty much the case today. Broad support for a technology society, as is the case in much of Eastern Asia, India and Europe, will require us to change our attitudes. Political leaders can help, but we can’t rely on them alone to reshape values. If we expect to have our plasma TVs, iPods and cancer drugs, but are not willing to participate in their development, we’ll end living in the second-class nation we deserve.

—–

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!

At SC19: What Is UrgentHPC and Why Is It Needed?

November 14, 2019

The UrgentHPC workshop, taking place Sunday (Nov. 17) at SC19, is focused on using HPC and real-time data for urgent decision making in response to disasters such as wildfires, flooding, health emergencies, and accidents. We chat with organizer Nick Brown, research fellow at EPCC, University of Edinburgh, to learn more. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

China’s Tencent Server Design Will Use AMD Rome

November 13, 2019

Tencent, the Chinese cloud giant, said it would use AMD’s newest Epyc processor in its internally-designed server. The design win adds further momentum to AMD’s bid to erode rival Intel Corp.’s dominance of the glo Read more…

By George Leopold

NCSA Industry Conference Recap – Part 1

November 13, 2019

Industry Program Director Brendan McGinty welcomed guests to the annual National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) Industry Conference, October 8-10, on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana (UIUC). One hundred seventy from 40 organizations attended the invitation-only, two-day event. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing components with Intel Xeon, AMD Epyc, IBM Power, and Arm server ch Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel AI Summit: New ‘Keem Bay’ Edge VPU, AI Product Roadmap

November 12, 2019

At its AI Summit today in San Francisco, Intel touted a raft of AI training and inference hardware for deployments ranging from cloud to edge and designed to support organizations at various points of their AI journeys. The company revealed its Movidius Myriad Vision Processing Unit (VPU)... Read more…

By Doug Black

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Help HPC Work Smarter and Accelerate Time to Insight

 

[Attend the IBM LSF & HPC User Group Meeting at SC19 in Denver on November 19]

To recklessly misquote Jane Austen, it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a company in possession of a highly complex problem must be in want of a massive technical computing cluster. Read more…

SIA Recognizes Robert Dennard with 2019 Noyce Award

November 12, 2019

If you don’t know what Dennard Scaling is, the chances are strong you don’t labor in electronics. Robert Dennard, longtime IBM researcher, inventor of the DRAM and the fellow for whom Dennard Scaling was named, is th Read more…

By John Russell

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel AI Summit: New ‘Keem Bay’ Edge VPU, AI Product Roadmap

November 12, 2019

At its AI Summit today in San Francisco, Intel touted a raft of AI training and inference hardware for deployments ranging from cloud to edge and designed to support organizations at various points of their AI journeys. The company revealed its Movidius Myriad Vision Processing Unit (VPU)... Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quant Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. That’s the conclusion drawn by the scientists and researchers of Europe’s NEXTGenIO project, an initiative funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program to explore this new... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

MLPerf Releases First Inference Benchmark Results; Nvidia Touts its Showing

November 6, 2019

MLPerf.org, the young AI-benchmarking consortium, today issued the first round of results for its inference test suite. Among organizations with submissions wer Read more…

By John Russell

Azure Cloud First with AMD Epyc Rome Processors

November 6, 2019

At Ignite 2019 this week, Microsoft's Azure cloud team and AMD announced an expansion of their partnership that began in 2017 when Azure debuted Epyc-backed instances for storage workloads. The fourth-generation Azure D-series and E-series virtual machines previewed at the Rome launch in August are now generally available. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Launches Credit Card-Sized 21 TOPS Jetson System for Edge Devices

November 6, 2019

Nvidia has launched a new addition to its Jetson product line: a credit card-sized (70x45mm) form factor delivering up to 21 trillion operations/second (TOPS) o Read more…

By Doug Black

In Memoriam: Steve Tuecke, Globus Co-founder

November 4, 2019

HPCwire is deeply saddened to report that Steve Tuecke, longtime scientist at Argonne National Lab and University of Chicago, has passed away at age 52. Tuecke Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cerebras to Supply DOE with Wafer-Scale AI Supercomputing Technology

September 17, 2019

Cerebras Systems, which debuted its wafer-scale AI silicon at Hot Chips last month, has entered into a multi-year partnership with Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as part of a larger collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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