Supercomputer Destroys Speed Record

A US supercomputer has become the first to pass the 100 petaflops barrier… and in fact doubled it.

‘Summit’, housed at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, isn’t yet ‘officially’ the world’s fastest computer, but will almost certainly take the crown in the next bi-annual list from the TOP500 project.

The current holder is China’s TaihuLight at 93.015 petaFLOPS. While the score it receives in the TOP500 rankings may vary, the Department of Energy says Summit has a peak performance of 200 petaflops: that is, 200 trillion calculations per second.

The number are so huge, the real race now is to find the best analogy. Steve Lohr of the New York Times started the bidding by noting that Summit has the same processing capability as 20 stadiums each filled with 100,000 people each using a laptop.

Another way of looking at it is that if a human was able to carry out a calculation every second (presumably with fast fingers on a pocket calculator), they’d need to live for 6.3 billion years – roughly 50 percent longer than Earth has existed — to carry out the same work Summit could do in a single second.

It’s not just a case of building a faster computer for the sake of it. Summit will, like many of its predecessors, work on tasks that involve modelling the compounded effects of tiny variations, such as in forecasting weather, exploring astrophysics and researching cancers. Unlike predecessors, it’s been specifically designed to work on artificial intelligence approaches.

Perhaps most impressively, Summit even carried out some work while it was still being built, including exploring genomics code.

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