President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to build the world’s fastest computer, a machine capable of speeds far beyond technology’s current reach, in a bid to enlarge the frontiers of fields including medicine, biology and astronomy.
By 2025, the government will aim to create a machine capable of performing a quintillion operations a second, or one exaflop, roughly 30 times faster than today’s fastest computer.
Such ultrafast machines are seen as potentially transformative tools in forecasting weather or unlocking mysteries of the human brain through the simulation of its operations.
“This is an extremely important step for high performance computing in the U.S.,” Horst Simon, a computer science expert and deputy director of
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Science magazine.
Mr. Obama’s executive order, which establishes a cross-government body called the National Strategic Computing Initiative, represents an American commitment to gaining an upper hand in an increasingly competitive race for the fastest supercomputers. China currently has the fastest machine, the Tianhe-2, which can carry out nearly 34 quadrillion operations per second, according to The Top 500 List, a ranking of the world’s most powerful computers.
The United States has the second-fastest machine, a Department of Energy supercomputer that runs at more than 17 quadrillion operations a second. Intel and Cray are collaborating on a Department of Energy project to create a system that would run at 180 quadrillion operations a second, with a deadline of 2018.
Several other world powers, including Russia, India and the European Union, are also pushing toward similar speeds.
Any effort to unlock the technology to faster computing will have to be paired with effort to reduce the amount of power it would require. If an exaflop-capable machine used today’s technology, it would need its own power plant to run. The question has vexed scientists, although some see potential solutions.
The United States initiative will coordinate efforts across multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House said.