Summit the Supercomputer

It’s shiny, fast ultrapowerful, and likely to be named the world’s speediest and smartest supercomputer. It fills a server room the size of two tennis courts and can spit out answers to 200 quadrillion (or 200 with 15 zeros) calculations per second, or 200 petaflops, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where the supercomputer resides. “If every person on Earth completed one calculation per second, it would take the world population 305 days to do what Summit can do in 1 second,” according to an ORNL statement.

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The supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system that’s made up of 4,608 computer servers — each comprising processors (the brains of the computer). But what’s actually going on inside these processors is what makes the difference.  “Summit’s computer architecture is quite different from what we have had before,” Daniel Jacobson, a computational biologist at ORNL, who is working on Summit, told Live Science. For one thing, the computer uses the new Tensor Core feature in its graphics cards (made by Nvidia), which is designed specifically for applications focusing on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and to be fast.

Basically, unlike older computer chips, these chips are optimized for a special type of mathematical operation on matrices — or rectangles filled with numbers with rules for adding, subtracting and multiplying the different rows and columns. Computers equipped with AI programs often learn using so-called neural networks, which have several layers in which lower calculations feed into higher ones. And this process requires the heavy use of matrices.

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