From: Grant Callaghan (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 20 Nov 2002 - 05:17:02 GMT
We may have to pass the baton sooner than I thought.
This Is Your Computer on Brains
By Michelle Delio
02:00 AM Nov. 19, 2002 PT
The fastest supercomputers in the world are complete slackers compared with
the processing power of the human brain.
But that's about to change.
The U.S Department of Energy announced Tuesday that IBM has won a $290
million contract to build two of the first computers capable of equaling the
theoretical processing power of the human brain.
The combined processing power of the two computers will be half a
quadrillion (500 trillion) calculations per second, more than 1.5 times the
combined processing power of all 500 machines on the recently released Top
500 list of supercomputers.
"ASCI Purple," slated to be completed in 2003, is expected to be the world's
first 100-teraflops supercomputer, capable of processing data almost three
times faster than current supercomputers.
A human brain's probable processing power is around 100 teraflops, roughly
100 trillion calculations per second, according to Hans Morvec, principal
research scientist at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University.
This is based on factoring the capability of the brain's 100 billion
neurons, each with over 1,000 connections to other neurons, with each
connection capable of performing about 200 calculations per second.
The Energy Department's second new supercomputer, "Blue Gene/L," will be
even faster than ASCI Purple. When completed in 2004, Blue Gene/L will have
a peak performance of 360 teraflops.
But human brains are still better than supercomputers in some respects.
ASCI Purple will have 50 terabytes (trillion bytes) of memory; Morvec
estimates a brain to have a 100-terabyte capacity.
Brains are portable; ASCI Purple will be the size of 197 refrigerator-size
boxes covering 8,900 square feet (about the size of two basketball courts)
and will weigh 197 tons. The average brain is 56 cubic inches and weighs 3.3
The human brain is distinguished by its ability to think and create in
addition to simply processing information quickly, said Wise Young, director
of the Keck Neuroscience lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
But ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L will do things that no brain can do.
Blue Gene/L will be used for scientific research such as predicting global
climate change and studying the behavior of super explosives. The
supercomputer will be used by three laboratories -- Los Alamos, Sandia and
Lawrence Livermore -- and the Advanced Simulation and Computing Initiative
University Alliance collaborators.
ASCI Purple's primary purpose will be to simulate the aging and operation of
U.S. nuclear weapons, ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation's
stockpile without the need for underground testing.
ASCI Purple will be powered by 12,544 microprocessors contained in 196
individual computers interconnected via a super-fast data highway that
exchanges information at 100 gigabytes, the equivalent of 14 full-length DVD
movies, every second. ASCI Purple will run IBM's AIXL operating system.
"ASCI Purple is like having an electron microscope when all the other
scientists have a magnifying glass," explained Mark Seager, assistant
director for Advanced Technologies for the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in California.
ASCI Purple will be built over the next year and installed in a dedicated
building known as the Terascale Simulation Facility currently under
construction at the Livermore lab.
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