The United States just reclaimed bragging rights for the fastest supercomputer after getting dethroned for eight years.
China became home to the world’s fastest supercomputer in 2010 with its Tianhe-1A and bested itself five years ago with the Sunway TaihuLight. But on Friday, the US Department of Energy unveiled a new supercomputer dubbed Summit that’s more than twice as powerful as China’s fastest.
“We know that we’re in a competition, and we know that this competition is real — it matters who gets there first,” said US energy secretary Rick Perry during the supercomputer’s unveiling. “I mean, it really matters. And today, and the ability to show the rest of the world that America is back in the game — and we’re back in the game in a big way — is really important.”
IBM began developing the $200 million government-funded project in 2014 for the Oak Ride National Laboratory in Tennessee, and while it was in development, the supercomputer was already comparing different genomes. It has more than 4,600 computer servers and 10 petabytes of memory.
“Imagine [driving a] race car while you’re putting the tires on,” said the Oak Ride director Thomas Zacharia when it launched. “Literally as the machine was being assembled they were getting on the machine and running.”
Summit, which is four times faster than the country’s previous fastest supercomputer, can compute 200,000 trillion calculations per second — a human who can compute one calculation per second would have to live more than 6 billion years to match what the supercomputer can do in one second.
Perry called the unveiling of Summit a “pinnacle” of technological developments and said he hopes that the supercomputer can eventually help find the cure to Alzheimer’s, cancer as well as other medical conditions.
“Summit will empower scientists to address a wide range of new challenges, accelerate discovery, spur innovation and above all, benefit the American people,” Perry said. “Whether it’s our national security, whether it’s our economics, whether it’s our scientific discovery, whether it’s energy research, this is going to be effected in a powerful way by all of that.”