House Science Committee Approves Two Computing Measures

On June 16, 2004, in Policy, by Peter Harsha

The House Committee on Science today approved by voice vote two bills authorizing and codifying policy for High Performance Computing research and development at agencies under the committee’s jurisdiction. HR 4218, the High Performance Revitalization Act of 2004, attempts to address concerns within the computing community about interagency coordination in the government-wide Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program generally, and specifically within the high-performance computing community. In essence, the bill tries to do three things:

  • Make sure US researchers have access to the best machines available;
  • Make sure research moves forward on a broad range of architectures, software, applications, algorithms, etc.; and,
  • Assure the interagency planning process really works.
    We’ve covered the bill previously here.
    There was only one amendment to the bill, offered (and then withdrawn) by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), that would have required a study of the moral and legal implications of computing research that might lead to machine cognition “equal or greater than human cognition.” Citing alternate possible futures for the research, Sherman evoked both Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey while raising concerns about the implications of supercomputing efforts leading to machines smarter than humans in “as few as 25 years.” Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opposed the amendment, objecting primarily to the broad language of the amendment. “While I appreciate the gentleman’s intent,” Boehlert said, “the amendment is so broadly written it would bring computer science research to a halt.” Would a computer that could beat a man at chess qualify, Boehlert wondered? Sherman agreed that the amendment could use some refinement, but also indicated it was a significant step from his original amendment, which would have prohibited research in any area in computer science that could lead to machine cognition on par with human cognition. Pointing out that the amendment was not likely to pass, Boehlert prevailed upon Sherman to withdraw the amendment without asking for a recorded vote, which would have required the members of the committee who’d left the markup for other engagements be called back to cast a vote. Sherman agreed and the bill passed by voice vote without further amendment.
    Bill #2 was H.R. 4516, the Department of Energy High End Computing Act, introduced by Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Lincoln Davis (D-TN), which would authorize High-end computing at the Department of Energy. The bill, is similar to a Senate bill introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), that is loosely modeled on the recommendations of the report (pdf) from the High End Computing Revitalization Task Force workshop CRA hosted last June. That bill would authorize $250 million worth of HEC R&D at the Department of Energy through FY 2009 ($40M in FY 05, building to $60 M in FY 09); it would authorize $500 million through FY 09 ($100 M a year from FY05-FY09) to construct a new supercomputer with “100 times the capability” of the fastest computer in existence at enactment; and it would authorize $50 million through FY09 ($10M a year) for the creation of a High-end Software Development Center. The money authorized would be “new” money, so appropriators would have to come up with additional money to fund it.
    H.R. 4516 is a bit more modest than the Senate version, only authorizing $50 million in FY 05 for HEC R&D, building to $60 million in FY 07.
    Having been approved by the Science Committee, both bills should head to the House floor soon, perhaps as early as next week. Watch this space for further details.

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