People to Watch 2023 – Horst Simon

Horst Simon

Director, ADIA Lab with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Top500 Author

Congratulations on your selection as a 2023 HPCwire Person to Watch and on your new position as Director of ADIA Lab of Abu Dhabi. Tell us about your new role and what it entails.

Thank you! I am honored to be selected as a 2023 HPCwire Person to Watch and to be given the opportunity to serve as the Director of ADIA Lab of Abu Dhabi.

As Director of ADIA Lab, I am responsible for overseeing the operations and research agenda of the lab, which is dedicated to exploring cutting-edge trends and technologies in data and computational sciences. Our focus areas include Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, High-Performance and Quantum Computing, with applications across various fields such as climate change and energy transition, distributed finance and blockchain technology, and health sciences.

My role involves building partnerships with academic and other institutions globally, designing educational programs, funding reproducible research projects, and hosting seminars, competitions, and Best Paper awards. I am also responsible for engaging with our Advisory Board of global thought leaders in data and computational sciences to advise on the development and implementation of our research agenda and programs.

Overall, my role at ADIA Lab is about driving forward cutting-edge research in data and computational sciences and ensuring that ADIA Lab remains at the forefront of its field.

Can you share more about the ADIA Lab and its mission?

Sure! ADIA Lab is an independent research center dedicated to basic and applied research in data and computational sciences. Our mission is to explore the latest trends and technologies in this field and to promote cutting-edge research across a wide range of applications.

ADIA Lab is supported by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), a global investment institution that exists to protect and grow the long-term prosperity of the people of Abu Dhabi. With such far-reaching goals, ADIA believes in exploring ideas that benefit wider society.

In line with this, ADIA Lab operates as a standalone entity with broad research goals, not limited to investment-related applications, and is active in contributing to the development of Abu Dhabi’s digital ecosystem.

What motivated you to make this big move?

The opportunity to lead ADIA Lab was very appealing to me for several reasons. Firstly, I was drawn to the organization’s commitment to promoting cutting-edge research in data and computational sciences. The broad range of application areas that ADIA Lab is exploring provides a unique opportunity to have a significant impact on society.

Additionally, I was impressed by the support that ADIA is providing to ADIA Lab, and the way we will interact with ADIA employees, providing opportunities for them to attend seminars and academic programs and to conduct joint research projects – which is all part of ADIA’s intent to foster a scientific mindset throughout its organization. This demonstrates a real commitment to ensuring the success of ADIA Lab.

Finally, I was attracted to the challenge of leading a new and independent research center in a rapidly evolving field. I am excited to bring my expertise and experience to this role and to contribute to the continued growth and success of ADIA Lab.

You are one of the founding authors of the Top500 list, released twice a year at SC and ISC. Will you continue on in that capacity?

Yes, definitely. While my role as Director of ADIA Lab will be my primary focus, I am proud of my association with the Top500 list and I will continue to support its mission of providing a comprehensive and impartial assessment of the world’s most powerful supercomputing systems. I am planning to continue to attend ISC and SC conferences in my role as Top500 author. The Top500 list is a valuable resource for the high-performance computing community, and I am honored to have been a part of its ongoing success.

I believe that my experiences and insights from working on the Top500 list will be valuable as ADIA Lab focuses on cutting-edge research in high-performance computing and quantum computing. I also believe that HPC is going through a period of rapid change in the post-exascale era, and it will be challenging for the Top500 to keep up with new developments, and I want to be part of this discussion.

In 2013, you made the case that there wouldn’t be an exascale machine before 2020 and indeed the first Linpack exascale machine didn’t arrive until 2022 with the debut of Frontier on the Top500 list. What gave you visibility into the delayed timeline. What does that say about future milestones? What is your view on there being a ‘zettascale’ supercomputer?

On that question I completely agree with the recent paper by Matsuoka, Hoefler and their team about “Myths and Legends about HPC”, see They state “… our more realistic, yet optimistic, timeline for zetta is zettaop/s in 2032 at 50 MW, zettaflop/s in 2037 at 200 MW, and zettascale by 2038.”   Without any unexpected breakthrough in one of the fundamental HPC technologies, I don’t expect a zettaflops RMAX HPL performance before 2038.

It’s important to note that the development of increasingly powerful supercomputers is not an end in itself, but rather a means to address a wide range of scientific, engineering, and societal challenges.

The traditional HPC market is undergoing substantial change, most notably blending in AI technologies with quantum on the horizon. What trends – and in particular emerging trends – do you find most notable? Any areas you are concerned about, or identify as in need of more attention/investment?

The integration of AI technologies with HPC is certainly one of the most notable trends in the field today. This convergence is enabling new breakthroughs in areas such as machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, and robotics, among others. The combination of HPC and AI technologies is also driving innovation in areas such as personalized medicine, autonomous vehicles, and climate modeling.

Quantum computing is another emerging trend that has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of science and engineering. However, it is still in its early stages of development and significant investments are required to advance the technology and make it more accessible to a wider range of users.

One area that has fallen behind in attention and new development is neuromorphic computing. I made the point several years ago, that the brain is incredibly energy efficient, and if we as HPC community want to lower the energy costs for operating large supercomputers, we need to be more inspired by brain-like computing. Similarly, I think that DNA based storage is a technology that needs more research and support. Without such new breakthrough ideas, HPC will be stuck in the Exascale era of the 2010s.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM and what advice would you give to young people wishing to follow in your footsteps?

As a kid I was very intrigued by computing: I did many computations with paper and pencil. When I was 10 or 11, I received as a gift a KOSMOS set that allowed me to build a small analog computer with wires, switches, batteries, and light bulbs. This “toy” got me started in computing. I was fascinated by the power of computation to solve complex problems and model real-world phenomena.

Outside of the professional sphere, what can you tell us about yourself – unique hobbies, favorite places, etc.? Is there anything about you your colleagues might be surprised to learn?

I love to read, and I am very interested in history books. Having moved to the UAE I am currently catching up on recent Middle East history, trying to understand the developments that shaped the region. I also love to travel and moving to Abu Dhabi brought many places into closer reach that I always wanted to visit. I am planning a lot of visits to the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indo-Pacific region in the next few years.

People to Watch 2023

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