Home Technology The US is building their first exascale computer

The US is building their first exascale computer

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Have you ever tried to picture how much a billion is? We know some people on this world have this kind of money, but, I think it’s a number that few people understand or can even comprehend – even when it comes to pure mathematics.  But, why stop there, why not go beyond this and not just add a zero or two, but let’s add a whole other billion billions. Now, just imagine how big a number that is?

If you’re a normal person like me, your brain probably ran into a computer error just trying to think of a number that big. Essentially, this number is what we call a quintillion, or more specifically 1018 . If I can make it even more graphic for you, it would be this big: 10 000 000 000 000 000 000. I think – I ran into an overflow error just typing that. That is a lot of zeroes and unless you’re from Zimbabwe or Venezuela, you have probably never seen that many zeroes in your life. Why am I talking about all these zeroes though? Because the United States have announced that they are working on the first exascale computer. A computer able to process one quintillion calculations per second.

The new supercomputer in development by Intel, for the Department of Energy, dubbed Aurora is scheduled to become fully operational by the end of 2021. The cost of the project is around $500 million and will essentially be more powerful than pretty much all of their supercomputers – combined. What exactly do they plan to do with all that processing power? Well, sadly, according to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, it’s not to run Crysis or Ray-tracing of some sort, but rather just research. How boring:

We will use exascale computing and AI to accelerate discovery, spur ingenuity, drive innovation, and above all, we will impact all of those areas in ways that just a few years ago we couldn’t have realized that we were going to have the ability to do… When you talk about a billion billion calculations per second, for us mere mortals it kind of dawns on you where we are, what we’re doing, what we are on the cusp of being able to accomplish.

To put it more specifically, they see these machines focused on data simulation and machine learning to hopefully gain new insights for the future, as echoed by Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment, and life sciences at Argonne (the location of this new supercomputer):

We kind of think of this as simulation data and machine learning as the targets for such a machine

I can’t even imagine what a computer of that power could do to solve problems and how quickly it would be able to think of different scenarios. It would be the equivalent of Doctor Strange going through 14 million futures trying to figure out how to defeat Thanos, except only in a manner of seconds. We could also worry about it creating a Cybernet AI to take humans out, but if this machine is capable of real learning, it should be able to figure out that humans will do this all on their own and then just leave us be to end it all ourselves.

The Aurora though may not be the first computer to get to that mark, as China are rumoured to be also working on an exascale computer to be completed sometime in 2020. With the focus on high-tech surveillance and security, you can only imagine what they will be able to do with a machine such as this.

The 1960s may have had the space race between the US and the Soviet Union to see who could be the first on the moon, but it seems we’re headed for another race This time between the US and China to see who can create the first true artificial intelligence.

Last Updated: March 20, 2019

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