Dan Connors – TRANSCRIPT
I’m going to start off today with a very important question, and that is what would you do with infinite computing power? I’m not asking what society or the government is going to do, I’m asking you a personal question: what would you do with infinite computing?
As a professor at University of Colorado, this is something I’m very close to, and this is actually how I start off each year talking to my students in “Computer Architecture: the Foundations of Computer Design.” I pose that question to them, and just like you, maybe you’ve already thought, your answer and what that’s going to be.
Maybe you want to use computers to make money by somehow predicting the stock market. Maybe that was your first guess. Maybe your second one is you will decrypt all encrypted material so that you don’t have any secrets out there. So while this question isn’t meant to be a philosophical question for my engineering students, it quickly comes out with many parallels in real life. The first thing we point out is that this is no longer a question, or at least we should be aware of this as far as our field.
So if I look at the annual report coming out of the Top 500, this is the listing of the Top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world. N equals 1 is the fastest, N equals 500 is the lowest of the 500. What’s very interesting to look at as far as supercomputers behave in terms of calculations per second, that’s the measurement we use typically to define the fastest computer, the number of math calculations per second. What’s fascinating about supercomputers is equally fascinating about where we’re at now in portable electronics: your laptop, your notebook, your iPad. So if we look at 2013 and look back 20 years to 1993, at the cost of millions of dollars back then to do that level of computing, you now have equally at 500 dollars, all within a hand’s reach.
So this brings up right away that this question isn’t even about talking about the future, x at scale level of a billion, trillion operations per second. It’s right now that we have to answer this question. What happens in other fields – and computers aren’t often given enough credit – is we think our own society should be more reactive to biology and chemistry. We have already started to regulate cloning of human tissue, as very well important in our society, but there’s also dangers of biological agents that we would say no individual person should be in possession of these things.