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!

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Feb. 23, 2017)

February 23, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Server Shows Low Latency on STAC-N1 Test

February 22, 2017

The performance of trade and match servers can be a critical differentiator for financial trading houses. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Financial Update (Feb. 2017)

February 22, 2017

In this recurring feature, we’ll provide you with financial highlights from companies in the HPC industry. Check back in regularly for an updated list with the most pertinent fiscal information. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Manufacturers Reaping the Benefits of Remote Visualization

Today’s manufacturers are operating in an ever-changing atmosphere, and finding new ways to boost productivity has never been more vital.

This is why manufacturers are ramping up their investments in high performance computing (HPC), a trend which has helped give rise to the “connected factory” and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts that are proliferating throughout the industry today. Read more…

Rethinking HPC Platforms for ‘Second Gen’ Applications

February 22, 2017

Just what constitutes HPC and how best to support it is a keen topic currently. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

ExxonMobil, NCSA, Cray Scale Reservoir Simulation to 700,000+ Processors

February 17, 2017

In a scaling breakthrough for oil and gas discovery, ExxonMobil geoscientists report they have harnessed the power of 717,000 processors – the equivalent of 22,000 32-processor computers – to run complex oil and gas reservoir simulation models. Read more…

By Doug Black

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Drug Developers Use Google Cloud HPC in the Fight Against ALS

February 16, 2017

Within the haystack of a lethal disease such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis / Lou Gehrig’s Disease) there exists, somewhere, the needle that will pierce this therapy-resistant affliction. Read more…

By Doug Black

Azure Edges AWS in Linpack Benchmark Study

February 15, 2017

The “when will clouds be ready for HPC” question has ebbed and flowed for years. Read more…

By John Russell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

What Knights Landing Is Not

June 18, 2016

As we get ready to launch the newest member of the Intel Xeon Phi family, code named Knights Landing, it is natural that there be some questions and potentially some confusion. Read more…

By James Reinders, Intel

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This