The most powerful supercomputer in the world is an absolute beast

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Behold Summit, a new supercomputer capable of making 200 million million calculations per second. It marks the first time in five years that a machine from the United States has been classified as the most powerful in the world.

    The specifications for this $ 200 million machine challenge understanding. Built by IBM and Nvidia for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy. UU., Summit is a 200 petaflop machine, which means it can perform 20 quadrillion calculations per second. That's about a million times faster than a typical laptop. As the New York Times put it, a human being would require 63 billion years to do what Summit can do in a single second. Or as stated by MIT Technology Review, "everyone on Earth would have to do a calculation every second of every day for 305 days to analyze what the new machine can do in the blink of an eye."

    The machine, with its 4,608 servers, 9,216 central processing chips, and 27,648 graphics processors, weighs 340 tons. The system is located in a 9,250-square-foot room on the premises of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. To keep this machine cool, 4,000 gallons of water are pumped through the system. The 13 megawatts of energy needed to power this giant could light more than 8,000 homes in the United States.

    Summit is now the most powerful supercomputer in the world, and it is 60 percent faster than the holder of the previous title, the Sunway TaihuLight of China. It is the first time since 2013 that a computer built in the United States has held the title, showing that the United States is keeping up with its main rival in this area, China. Summit is eight times more powerful than Titan, the other best-ranked system in the United States.

    As MIT Technology Review explains, Summit is the first supercomputer specifically designed to handle specific AI applications, such as machine learning and neural networks. Its thousands of AI-optimized chips, produced by Nvidia and IBM, allow the machine to traverse awful amounts of data in search of patterns imperceptible to humans. As stated in an statement, "Summit will allow scientific discoveries that were previously impractical or impossible."

    Summit and machines like this can be used for all kinds of applications with a large number of processors, such as designing new aircraft, modeling the climate, simulating nuclear explosions, creating new materials and finding causes of diseases. In fact, its potential to help with drug discovery is enormous; Summit, for example, could be used to search for relationships between millions of genes and cancer. It could also help with precision medicine, in which medications and treatments are tailored to individual patients.

    From here, we can expect the next generation of computers, the so-called "exascale" computers capable of executing a trillion trillion (or one quintillion) calculations per second. And we may not have to wait long: the first exascale computers can arrive in the early 2020s.


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