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Fastest Computer might be Built in Japan by 2018
Dec 03, 2016

When it comes to the most powerful computers in the world, the scene is dominated by two players: the United States and China. In fact, of the top of five most powerful supercomputing sites on the planet, China owns the top two spots, with the U.S. holding the third, fourth, and fifth places on the list. But, by 2018, that top spot might belong to Japan. 

Japan has budgeted $173 million to hold the supercomputing crown, and plans to build a machine capable of 130 petaflops, which will top China’s Sunway TaihuLight—with a max of just over 93 petaflops but theoretical peak of around 125—to claim the crown of world’s fastest.

Japan aims to use the project to revitalize its somewhat stagnant technology industry, which has stumbled in recent years while neighbouring China has muscled into the scene.

The supercomputer project, which Japan has named AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) is currently seeking bids from manufacturers willing to take on the monumental task. ABCI is slated to be ready for action by 2018, when it will be used by Japan to boost its research into artificial intelligence platforms. Japan also plans to provide the computer’s power to Japanese companies who currently rely on the likes of Google and Microsoft for their heavy data lifting.

What is Supercomputer?

Supercomputers are broadly defined as the fastest computing systems at any given time and are used for scientific purposes that require handling of troves of data at high speed. This includes testing mathematical models using thousands of variables to infer complex phenomena like weather, climate change, nuclear reactions, origin of the universe and so on. 

Measuring the computing power of a supercomputer 

The standard unit to measure computational power is Floating Point Operations Per Second (FLOPS). It is the number of mathematical operations involving fractions that a computer can do per second. For the most basic computers and smartphones, the computational ability is a few megaflops (more than a million operations per second). Chinese supercomputer Sunway TaihuLight (which is ranked the fastest in the world by Top500 (a supercomputer ranking project) has a computational ability of 93 petaflops, more than a billion times faster than normal computers. Recently it was announced that Japan will spend $173 billion to build the world's fastest supercomputer system with a capacity of 130 petaflops. 

Problems while enhancing speed of supercomputer

First, the maximum speed at which electronic signals can travel cannot be faster than the speed of light. Second, because of frequent receiving and transmission of these signals, it was important to have a suitable cooling technique to control the temperature of the system. Both barriers were tackled by decreasing the lengths these signals were required to traverse by using circuit boards and innovation in cooling techniques. Other advancements involved introduction of vector arithmetic in computing. 

World's first supercomputer 

In 1965, CDC 6600, a supercomputer designed by US engineer Seymour Cray was installed at the CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. CDC 6600 had a computational capacity of three megaflops. In the 1970s, the series CDC 7600 was introduced, which was 10 times faster than the earlier version. In 1976, the Cray-1 supercomputer was installed in the Los Alamos laboratory with a computation capacity of 160 megaflops. 

World leaders in supercomputers 

Of the 500 fastest supercomputers, the highest numbers are in the US and China, each having 171 such systems. Germany, Japan and France each have 20 or more such systems. India is ranked 9th with five of its supercomputers listed in Top500.

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