The United States just won bragging rights in the race to build the world’s speediest supercomputer, New York Times reported.
For five years, China had the world’s fastest computer, a symbolic achievement for a country trying to show that it is a tech powerhouse. But the United States retook the lead thanks to a machine, called Summit, built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Summit’s speeds, announced on Friday, boggle the mind. It can do mathematical calculations at the rate of 200 quadrillion per second, or 200 petaflops. To put in human terms: A person doing one calculation a second would have to live for more than 6.3 billion years to match what the machine can do in a second.
China still has the world’s most supercomputers over all. And China, Japan and Europe are developing machines that are even faster, which could mean the American lead is short-lived.
Supercomputers like Summit, which cost $200 million in government money to build, can accelerate the development of technologies at the frontier of computing, like artificial intelligence and the ability to handle vast amounts of data.
Those skills can be used to help tackle daunting challenges in science, industry and national security — and are at the heart of an escalating rivalry between the United States and China over technology.
For years, American tech companies have accused China of stealing their intellectual property. And some Washington lawmakers say that Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei pose a national security risk.
Supercomputers now perform tasks that include simulating nuclear tests, predicting climate trends, finding oil deposits and cracking encryption codes. Scientists say that further gains and fresh discoveries in fields like medicine, new materials and energy technology will rely on the approach that Summit embodies.
The global supercomputer rankings have been compiled for more than two decades by a small team of computer scientists who put together a Top 500 list. It is led by Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee. The newest list will not be released until later this month, but Mr. Dongarra said he was certain that Summit was the fastest.
At 200 petaflops, the new machine achieves more than twice the speed of the leading supercomputer in November, when the last Top 500 list was published. That machine is at China’s National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi.
Summit is made up of rows of black, refrigerator-size units that weigh a total of 340 tons and are housed in a 9,250 square-foot room. It is powered by 9,216 central processing chips from IBM and 27,648 graphics processors from Nvidia, another American tech company, that are lashed together with 185 miles of fiber-optic cable.
Cooling Summit requires 4,000 gallons of water a minute, and the supercomputer consumes enough electricity to light up 8,100 American homes.
The global supercomputer sprint comes as internet giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google in the United States and Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent in China take the lead in developing technologies like cloud computing and facial recognition.