The New York Times’ John Markoff, who launched much of the media and congressional attention on computer science this year with his April 2005 piece “Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars“, is still on the computing beat. His most recent is today’s “A New Arms Race to Build the World’s Mightiest Computer.” Here’s a sample:
A global race is under way to reach the next milestone in supercomputer performance, many times the speed of today’s most powerful machines.
And beyond the customary rivalry in the field between the United States and Japan, there is a new entrant – China – eager to showcase its arrival as an economic powerhouse.
The new supercomputers will not be in use until the end of the decade at the earliest, but they are increasingly being viewed as crucial investments for progress in science, advanced technologies and national security.
The article highlights the recent announcements of long-term commitments by a number of countries to fund efforts to develop petaflop-scale computing systems. France, China and Japan have all initiated multi-year investments in programs designed to produce petaflop machines in the next decade. While support for supercomputing research and development here in the U.S. continues to “remain a priority” in the Administration’s plans, our commitment to long-term support for the development of these leadership class machines isn’t as stellar as it could be. PITAC’s June 2005 report on the state of computational science in the U.S. put it a bit more bluntly:
Yet, despite the great opportunities and needs, universities and the Federal government have not effectively recognized the strategic significance of computational science in either their organizational structures or their research and educational planning. These inadequacies compromise U.S. scientific leadership, economic competitiveness, and national security.
As the Council on Competitiveness is fond of noting, in order to compete in the global economy, you must be able to out-compute your rivals. The U.S. needs to ensure that it maintains a commitment to the long-term R&D that will continue to “prime the pump” for the innovations in high-end computing that will allow us to keep pace with our international competitors. Adopting PITAC’s recommendations (pdf) would be a good place to start.