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June 9, 2018

The United States has unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, overtaking the previous title held by China.

IBM says its supercomputer called Summit based at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, can perform 200 thousand trillion calculations each second, a speed called 200 petaflops.

This is as fast as each of the planet’s 7.6 billion people doing 26 million calculations per second on a hand calculator, CNET reported.

It is also nearly twice as fast the the Chinese supercomputer Sunway TaihuLight and eight times more powerful than Cray’s Titan supercomputer, which debuted as the world’s leading computer in 2012 with 76 quadrillion calculations per second. Titan dropped to fourth place in the world last year after China and Switzerland overtook it.

John Kelly, who heads IBM’s artificial intelligence and research projects, told Bloomberg: “These computers obviously offer those that have them the ability to innovate very, very quickly and have a competitive advantage.”

With a price tag of around $200 million, it is the first supercomputer to be built to handle machine learning, neural networks and Artificial Intelligence applications. With 4,608 servers, its equipment fills the space of two tennis courts and weighs more than a commercial aircraft.

The machines will give the U.S a security edge and can help develop nuclear weapons. The hope is that Summit will drive developments for so-called “exascale” computers that could handle a billion billion calculations per second by the 2020s, reported.

U.S. lawmakers who are worried about the amount that China is spending on AI and quantum computing, will see the supercomputer as move towards technological supremacy, especially as Beijing has vowed to strengthen its defense ties with Russia as a foil to American military might.

“There is a direct correlation between leadership in this area and national security implications. Every country recognizes that being a leader in this field has downstream impact,” Thomas Zacharia, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory told Bloomberg.

The U.S. Department of Energy will have the final say over who gets to use the system with scientific projects chosen from open submissions.

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was present at the unveiling, said the computer was about “making people’s lives better.”

“We know we are in a competition, and we know this competition is real and it matters who gets there first,” Perry said, according to CBS.

“There are things this computer does that I can’t explain, but what I can explain is that there are people’s lives out there that can be changed, maybe a loved one with a terrible disease,” he added.


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