Uncertain About the Future of Computing? HiPEAC Report Offers Guidance

By Tiffany Trader

January 22, 2019

On Monday (Jan. 21) HiPEAC — the European Network on High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation — published the 7th edition of the HiPEAC Vision. Funded by the European Commission, the report paints a picture of computing at a crossroads, where Moore’s law is slowing down and emerging technologies (AI, quantum, neuromorphic) are ramping up and where no one technology or trend is assured dominance. The report presents on a wide-ranging technology roadmap and recommends that “the short-term focus should be application-specific acceleration while exploring radically new paradigms.”

Further, “Europe should lead the way in developing trustable, safe, secure, energy-efficient computers which promote people’s quality of life and the health of the environment,” the editors note.

No surprise, machine learning is a major thrust. “We are finally seeing the emergence of what the HiPEAC roadmap proposed in 2009: ‘keep it simple for humans, and let the computer do the hard work.’”

There’s a lot of insight packed into the 178-page report, available for download at hipeac.net/vision. Although written with European interests in mind, the analysis and guidance applies broadly — there’s something for everyone working in the digital economy and lots for HPCers.

Section 2.6.5.1 covers high-performance computing, and section 2.2.1.4 (Post-Exascale HPC) offers the following:

The term “high-performance computing” (HPC) needs to be redefined: In the past, it was synonymous with “technical computing using supercomputers” to model and simulate complex scientific phenomena. In the future, HPC will become the convergence of traditional HPC (simulation) with processing and storage of big data and processing of artificial intelligence (AI) applications in the same data centre, along with ways of orchestrating computing resources for the different workloads. This will also concern the interfaces of this structure with external devices (distributed and edge devices).

Do you agree?

Additional details from the press release, including some highlighted findings:

The end of computing as we know it represents an opportunity for Europe to steer the development of future systems which respect the planet and humanity, according to a major new report produced by HiPEAC, the European Network on High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation.

We’ve been headed here for a while, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that we can’t keep shrinking components while increasing performance,’ says the HiPEAC Vision editor-in-chief, Marc Duranton (CEA). ‘Acceleration for specific applications is the short-term route to performance gains, while we investigate new paradigms such as neuromorphic and quantum computing – which will however complement, rather than replace, silicon semiconductor technology.’

‘The progress over the last 50 years has been stunning, to the point where computers are an integral part of our everyday lives. However, from encouraging addictive behaviour to ultimately threatening our democracies, we’ve also seen the damage digital technology can cause,’ adds Professor Koen De Bosschere (Ghent University), the HiPEAC network coordinator. ‘We need to ensure that robust digital ethics shape our future systems, and Europe should provide an example to follow.’

Setting out how business and society both influence and respond to everything from hardware components to system software, the Vision explores the state of the art and outlines future directions. As well as needing to be safe, secure and energy efficient – all at a reasonable cost – modern computers, which increasingly use artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, also need to follow our ethical principles. However, AI could also hold the key to surmounting the increasingly unmanageable complexity of modern systems.

‘Computing technologies now form a continuum – from the devices at the edge we interact with daily, such as virtual assistants, smartphones and medical wearables, to the largest data centres and high-performance computers,’ explains Marc Duranton. ‘Computers are also increasingly making themselves smarter through automated accelerator development and intelligent software design.’ To create the latest version of the HiPEAC’s flagship roadmap, the editorial board drew on the expertise of the 2,000-strong HiPEAC community, which is funded by the European Commission, and distils its extensive findings into a series of recommendations. These include:

  • investing in the development of accelerators and disruptive architectures while seeking alternatives to current semiconductor technology
  • bringing computer engineers and scientists out of their silos to consider the compute continuum as a whole
  • shifting value to the edge and building on Europe’s leading position in domains such as automotive, aerospace and trains

Europe should lead the way towards more humane and environmentally friendly systems by using collective data, developing a sustainable electronics industry, investing in the future workforce and, more generally, creating a compelling digital ethics framework.

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