US one-ups China in supercomputing race with IBM-made machine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory unveiled a new supercomputer that's significantly faster than the old one

Through a strategic partnership project between ORNL and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, researchers are combining clinical and genomic data with machine learning and Summit's advanced architecture to understand the genetic factors that contribute to conditions such as opioid addiction.

"We're seeing the USA back on top again", said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who tracks supercomputer speeds and rankings.

US President Donald Trump's administration has taken an aggressive tone toward China, blocking the takeover of chipmaker Qualcomm Inc on national security grounds and accusing China of stealing US trade secrets.

It's blink of an eye delivery makes it eight times faster than the China's Sunway TaihuLight, which was ranked number one in top 500 list in the fastest supercomputer in the world.

Although the brag has come to be acknowledged as merely symbolic, the location of the world's fastest supercomputer has always been a topic of national pride among a certain kind of politically-motivated tech nerd, as well as a jumping-off point for dark predictions of machine hegemony through the use or abuse of artificial intelligence and surveillance-based data gathering. The system, according to the department's announcement, is rated to perform 200,000 trillion calculations per second, or 200 petaflops.

Along with superfast calculation, the Summit is also proficient in operations involving artificial intelligence.

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Stupefying? Dongarra offered another analogy: The University of Tennessee football stadium seats about 100,000 people.

"I am truly excited by the potential of Summit, as it moves the nation one step closer to the goal of delivering an exascale supercomputing system by 2021", Perry added. "And, IBM is selling this same technology in Summit to enterprises today".

"Unless the Chinese pull off some sort of surprise this month, the new system will vault the United States back into first place", the group said. It weighs almost as much as a commercial jetliner and is connected by 185 miles of fiber optic cables. With whopping 4,608 servers, Summit is also quite a big in size so much so that it take up the size of two tennis courts and weigh more than a large commercial aircraft.

While impressive, Summit can be seen as a placeholder. Its many thousands of AI-optimized chips from Nvidia and IBM can handle demanding tasks, such as crunching through mountains of reports and medical images to help unearth hidden causes of disease. The Energy Department last month closed the window for bids on three such so-called exascale supercomputers to be built over the next three years. All that computing power means it can process 30 years worth of data saved on a desktop PC in a mere hour.

Yet China, Japan and Europe all have exascale projects underway. The U.S. lead, scientists say, could be short-lived. "It's what we do right here in Oak Ridge, we find a cure".

Summit is the next generation of a long line of development.

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