Raining on the Innovation Parade

By Michael Feldman

August 11, 2011

Conventional wisdom informs us that innovation leads to society’s well-being by fostering things like economic growth and higher living standards. It’s pretty much accepted that technology advancements in industrialization, computers, medical technology, and business practices are the big drivers. Economists also claim that innovation drives a specific aspect of economic strength, called productivity.

Or at least it should. An article this week in Technology Review points out that at least one innovation measure is on the decline. Researchers have noticed that since the 1973, US productivity growth has started to flatten.

Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, at George Mason calls it the “The Great Stagnation,” which conveniently is the same title as the book he authored. Cowen and others use a measurement called total factor productivity (TFP), which according to Wikipedia ”accounts for effects in total output not caused by inputs.” Basically it’s a metric for how efficiently the economic inputs are utilized for production. The idea is that this reflects the rate of technological advancement, aka innovation.

The chart below tells the sad tale:

The graphic is from a recent report (PDF) compiled by The Hamilton Project that tries to make some sense of what’s happening to innovation in the US. I have several problems with the report, but most of it is centered on the linkage between this TFP metric and innovation.

Anecdotally, having lived through both the pre-70s and post-70s, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that innovation in the latter era has been a lot more impressive than in the former. And not just innovation, but the rate of innovation.

From post-WWII to the 70s, the biggest advancements were the establishment of personal transportation in the modern automobile and the spread of television as the dominant media. It allowed people and goods to be transported freely across the country — at least where the roads go — and enabled near universal access to entertainment and news from homes. Not bad.

But since the 70s we’ve seen the rise of personal and mobile computing, the internet, genetic sequencing (and molecular-based medicine, in general), as well as my favorite and yours, high performance computing. So today, nearly any type of information accumulated by society can be accessed and manipulated from anywhere. To me, that’s more impressive than a 56 Chevy and a 19-inch black and white.

It also should be pointed out that even useful innovation is often ignored. Obviously in that case, it can’t get reflected in productivity. This may be especially true when the rate of innovation is so high that it’s hard for people or businesses to know when to hop aboard.

Some sectors tend to adopt technology quicker than others. For example, manufacturing and biotech have not embraced HPC with nearly the enthusiasm of say, academia and government research. And on the more personal level, technologies like VoIP, (which, as a Skype user, I can attest is a tremendous productivity booster), has yet to be picked up en masse. The reasons for resisting new technologies can be financial, educational or cultural, but they certainly play a big part in adoption.

Then there’s just the more general question whether innovation can exist independently of an economy’s productivity. Some observers have noticed that the flattening of the TFP slope after 1973 coincides with the US government’s abandonment of Keynesian economic policy (run deficits when the private sector cut back, otherwise run surpluses). The implication here is that productivity is more likely to correlate to government spending habits.

On that note, it might be worthwhile to look at what the government is spending its money on. Certainly we’ve seen funding for defense and entitlements — two areas unlikely to contribute to much to either innovation or productivity — increase substantially in the past four decades. Meanwhile US investments in R&D as a percent of GDP dropped from 2.2 percent in 1964 to about 1 percent today. But that in itself is no guarantee, given that R&D spending was below 1 percent in the 1950s, when TFP was doing just dandy.

Then there’s the observant economist who noticed that the TFP for durable goods actually increased during the past four decades, compared to the pre-70s pace. At the same time, the TFP for non-durable goods, which includes the service sector, actually flattened out (it was never very steep to begin with). Since the service sector has grown disproportionally to the durable goods sector, the overall slope of the TFP has flattened.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t do better in the innovation arena. But I do see the problem more as one of adoption than any perceived decline in innovation itself. Again, HPC users could be viewed as a microcosm of the problem. The technology has a good track record for improving productivity, with enough case studies to choke a modest-sized library. Innovation here comes in many forms — accelerators (GPUs and FPGAs), architectures (clusters, SMP machines, and exotics), and software (MPI, OpenMP, CUDA, OpenCL, and so on). The array of choices is overwhelming to the HPC newbie. Here, as elsewhere, understanding the technology is going to be the key to productivity.

In any case, be wary of reports that claim innovation is in trouble. Economists have a propensity to forecast doom scenarios, which is why economics is often referred to as the dismal science. They also love to uncover correlations like this, since that is the lifeblood of their field. But understanding the interplay between technology, economics and society is a daunting task, filled with variables that, frankly, no one fully understands.

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!

Verifying the Universe with Exascale Computers

July 30, 2021

The ExaSky project, one of the critical Earth and Space Science applications being solved by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Exascale Computing Project (ECP), is preparing to use the nation’s forthcoming exas Read more…

What’s After Exascale? The Internet of Workflows Says HPE’s Nicolas Dubé

July 29, 2021

With the race to exascale computing in its final leg, it’s natural to wonder what the Post Exascale Era will look like. Nicolas Dubé, VP and chief technologist for HPE’s HPC business unit, agrees and shared his vision at Supercomputing Frontiers Europe 2021 held last week. The next big thing, he told the virtual audience at SFE21, is something that will connect HPC and (broadly) all of IT – into what Dubé calls The Internet of Workflows. Read more…

How UK Scientists Developed Transformative, HPC-Powered Coronavirus Sequencing System

July 29, 2021

In November 2020, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) won the HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration for its CLIMB-COVID sequencing project. Launched in March 2020, CLIMB-COVID has now resulted in the sequencing of over 675,000 coronavirus genomes – an increasingly critical task as variants like Delta threaten the tenuous prospect of a return to normalcy in much of the world. Read more…

KAUST Leverages Mixed Precision for Geospatial Data

July 28, 2021

For many computationally intensive tasks, exacting precision is not necessary for every step of the entire task to obtain a suitably precise result. The alternative is mixed-precision computing: using high precision wher Read more…

Oak Ridge Supercomputer Enables Next-Gen Jet Turbine Research

July 27, 2021

Air travel is notoriously carbon-inefficient, with many airlines going as far as to offer purchasable carbon offsets to ease the guilt over large-footprint travel. But even over just the last decade, major aircraft model Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Data compression with increased performance and lower costs

Many customers associate a performance cost with data compression, but that’s not the case with Amazon FSx for Lustre. With FSx for Lustre, data compression reduces storage costs and increases aggregate file system throughput. Read more…

IBM and University of Tokyo Roll Out Quantum System One in Japan

July 27, 2021

IBM and the University of Tokyo today unveiled an IBM Quantum System One as part of the IBM-Japan quantum program announced in 2019. The system is the second IBM Quantum System One assembled outside the U.S. and follows Read more…

What’s After Exascale? The Internet of Workflows Says HPE’s Nicolas Dubé

July 29, 2021

With the race to exascale computing in its final leg, it’s natural to wonder what the Post Exascale Era will look like. Nicolas Dubé, VP and chief technologist for HPE’s HPC business unit, agrees and shared his vision at Supercomputing Frontiers Europe 2021 held last week. The next big thing, he told the virtual audience at SFE21, is something that will connect HPC and (broadly) all of IT – into what Dubé calls The Internet of Workflows. Read more…

How UK Scientists Developed Transformative, HPC-Powered Coronavirus Sequencing System

July 29, 2021

In November 2020, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) won the HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration for its CLIMB-COVID sequencing project. Launched in March 2020, CLIMB-COVID has now resulted in the sequencing of over 675,000 coronavirus genomes – an increasingly critical task as variants like Delta threaten the tenuous prospect of a return to normalcy in much of the world. Read more…

IBM and University of Tokyo Roll Out Quantum System One in Japan

July 27, 2021

IBM and the University of Tokyo today unveiled an IBM Quantum System One as part of the IBM-Japan quantum program announced in 2019. The system is the second IB Read more…

Intel Unveils New Node Names; Sapphire Rapids Is Now an ‘Intel 7’ CPU

July 27, 2021

What's a preeminent chip company to do when its process node technology lags the competition by (roughly) one generation, but outmoded naming conventions make it seem like it's two nodes behind? For Intel, the response was to change how it refers to its nodes with the aim of better reflecting its positioning within the leadership semiconductor manufacturing space. Intel revealed its new node nomenclature, and... Read more…

Will Approximation Drive Post-Moore’s Law HPC Gains?

July 26, 2021

“Hardware-based improvements are going to get more and more difficult,” said Neil Thompson, an innovation scholar at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). “I think that’s something that this crowd will probably, actually, be already familiar with.” Thompson, speaking... Read more…

With New Owner and New Roadmap, an Independent Omni-Path Is Staging a Comeback

July 23, 2021

Put on a shelf by Intel in 2019, Omni-Path faced a uncertain future, but under new custodian Cornelis Networks, OmniPath is looking to make a comeback as an independent high-performance interconnect solution. A "significant refresh" – called Omni-Path Express – is coming later this year according to the company. Cornelis Networks formed last September as a spinout of Intel's Omni-Path division. Read more…

Chameleon’s HPC Testbed Sharpens Its Edge, Presses ‘Replay’

July 22, 2021

“One way of saying what I do for a living is to say that I develop scientific instruments,” said Kate Keahey, a senior fellow at the University of Chicago a Read more…

Summer Reading: “High-Performance Computing Is at an Inflection Point”

July 21, 2021

At last month’s 11th International Symposium on Highly Efficient Accelerators and Reconfigurable Technologies (HEART), a group of researchers led by Martin Schulz of the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (Munich) presented a “position paper” in which they argue HPC architectural landscape... Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Berkeley Lab Debuts Perlmutter, World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

May 27, 2021

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held virtually at Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) today marked the official launch of Perlmutter – aka NERSC-9 – the GPU-accelerated supercomputer built by HPE in partnership with Nvidia and AMD. Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer called Dojo to process truly vast amounts of video data. It’s a beast! … A truly useful exaflop at de facto FP32.” Read more…

Google Launches TPU v4 AI Chips

May 20, 2021

Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke for only one minute and 42 seconds about the company’s latest TPU v4 Tensor Processing Units during his keynote at the Google I Read more…

CentOS Replacement Rocky Linux Is Now in GA and Under Independent Control

June 21, 2021

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) is announcing the general availability of Rocky Linux, release 8.4, designed as a drop-in replacement for the soon-to-be discontinued CentOS. The GA release is launching six-and-a-half months after Red Hat deprecated its support for the widely popular, free CentOS server operating system. The Rocky Linux development effort... Read more…

Iran Gains HPC Capabilities with Launch of ‘Simorgh’ Supercomputer

May 18, 2021

Iran is said to be developing domestic supercomputing technology to advance the processing of scientific, economic, political and military data, and to strengthen the nation’s position in the age of AI and big data. On Sunday, Iran unveiled the Simorgh supercomputer, which will deliver.... Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized in his keynote, Nvidia doesn’t plan to build... Read more…

Microsoft to Provide World’s Most Powerful Weather & Climate Supercomputer for UK’s Met Office

April 22, 2021

More than 14 months ago, the UK government announced plans to invest £1.2 billion ($1.56 billion) into weather and climate supercomputing, including procuremen Read more…

Quantum Roundup: IBM, Rigetti, Phasecraft, Oxford QC, China, and More

July 13, 2021

IBM yesterday announced a proof for a quantum ML algorithm. A week ago, it unveiled a new topology for its quantum processors. Last Friday, the Technical Univer Read more…

Q&A with Jim Keller, CTO of Tenstorrent, and an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

April 22, 2021

As part of our HPCwire Person to Watch series, we are happy to present our interview with Jim Keller, president and chief technology officer of Tenstorrent. One of the top chip architects of our time, Keller has had an impactful career. Read more…

AMD-Xilinx Deal Gains UK, EU Approvals — China’s Decision Still Pending

July 1, 2021

AMD’s planned acquisition of FPGA maker Xilinx is now in the hands of Chinese regulators after needed antitrust approvals for the $35 billion deal were receiv Read more…

Senate Debate on Bill to Remake NSF – the Endless Frontier Act – Begins

May 18, 2021

The U.S. Senate today opened floor debate on the Endless Frontier Act which seeks to remake and expand the National Science Foundation by creating a technology Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire