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Big Bird, not big tech, gets traction in debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 5, 2012
After last night's presidential debate, the possible fate of Big Bird is now known.

But even in the Science Debate forum, specifics are missing.

In supercomputing, much attention is being directed at the global effort to build exascale systems that are roughly 1,000 times more powerful than the fastest supercomputers today.

But U.S. funding for this effort has been incremental.

The Exascale Report, a subscription publication that focuses on this community, recently conducted a survey of 83 people who work on such large-scale systems. Mike Bernhardt and Doug Black, who conducted the survey and summarized the results, said the overriding theme of respondents was frustration.

The survey comments were largely anonymous, since many people working in exascale research are employed at federally supported projects and government labs.

One of the questions in the survey was: Will the U.S. presidential election have an impact on HPC and exascale?

Here's one anonymous response: "The problem is deeper than the agenda of either presidential candidate. The problem comes from the lack of congressional commitment to very difficult and long-term research, and the fact that the science and technology leadership fails to connect the dots and recognize that economic recovery could very well be fueled by HPC innovation."

The European Commission believes exascale will require "radical innovation."

Building a system that's 1,000 times more powerful than today's high performance systems will take a 100-fold reduction in energy consumption. Scaling applications across millions of compute cores will be a challenge.

The U.S. has appropriated seed money for exascale research, but the funds are nowhere near the billions of dollars it's expected to need.

The European Commission has committed about $1.6 billion for exascale work; in the U.S., the financial commitment is less than $100 million. Meanwhile, China is moving aggressively as well and spending significant though unknown amounts.

Though exascale research funding plans went unmentioned, one of the few specific budget plans mentioned last night concerned PBS.

"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird," said Romney. "But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."



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