The Singularity is Nigh

For the first time, computers are exceeding the petaflop barrier. That’s measured in quadrillion floating point operations per second:

A new crop of supercomputers is breaking down the petaflop speed barrier, pushing high-performance computing into a new realm that could change science more profoundly than at any time since Galileo, leading researchers say.

When the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers was announced at the international supercomputing conference in Austin, Texas, on Monday, IBM had barely managed to cling to the top spot, fending off a challenge from Cray. But both competitors broke petaflop speeds, performing 1.105 and 1.059 quadrillion floating-point calculations per second, the first two computers to do so.

There’s just a little hyperbole:

“The scientific method has changed for the first time since Galileo invented the telescope (in 1609),” said computer scientist Mark Seager of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Still, an amazing feat. And maybe the above isn’t completely hype:

Breaking the petaflop barrier, a feat that seemed astronomical just two years ago, won’t just allow faster computations. These computers will enable entirely new types of science that couldn’t have been done before. This new generation of petascale machines will move scientific simulation beyond just supporting the two main branches of science, theory and experimentation, and into the foreground. Instead of just hypotheses being tested with experiments and observations, large-scale extrapolation and prediction of things we can’t observe or that would be impractical for an experiment, will become central to many scientific endeavors.

One day soon, one of these puppy’s is going to get bored running climate models and nuclear weapon simulations. Then again, maybe it won’t find the latter to be so terribly boring after all…

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