Supercomputers have been around for a while. Considered the first of its kind, the CDC 6600 supercomputer was released in 1964. Bearing little resemblance to the computers of today, the CDC 6600 was nonetheless groundbreaking and served to advance the world of computing in many ways. Throughout the years, the world of computing has advanced exponentially, with applications ranging from gaming to understanding the universe’s origins. The definition of a supercomputer is somewhat dependent on the time you are referring to. It is considered to be the fastest, most powerful computer available at a given time. As technology advances and microchips get smaller, computers will only get faster and more powerful, to the point where scientists are now discovering the practical possibilities of biological and quantum computing.
How are supercomputers being used to change industries and provide useful services to humankind now and in the years to come?
1. Artificial Intelligence
Computers have always been used to simulate real life. It is estimated that the human brain can make 10 quadrillion calculations per second. The current supercomputer, El Capitan, can perform an astounding 200 quadrillion calculations per second. This has encouraged scientists to attempt to make computer “brains” that can think for themselves. When people think of artificial intelligence, most people imagine a human-like robot capable of blending in with the general population. While these projects do exist, AI’s scope is much broader. Artificial intelligence is used for smart assistants, healthcare management, disease mapping, social media monitoring, natural language processing tools, and automated financial investing. These uses are and will continue to be an impactful and useful part of our everyday lives. So next time you ask your phone to perform a task, take a moment to thank artificial intelligence and supercomputers for the convenience.
Another practical application of supercomputers is in the world of automation. This automation ranges from industrial to personal applications. Factories use powerful computers to control manufacturing lines intelligently. Since they can perform repetitive tasks flawlessly, computers are put to work in robotics, assembling parts with a precision that rivals humans’ abilities. This results in more efficient quality control and faster production, saving companies millions of dollars and lowering the cost of products for the consumer.
The individual can benefit from powerful computers in uses such as turning on the sprinklers when it detects a certain soil moisture level or controlling a solar battery for more efficient storage of natural energy. The humble robot vacuum you set to run in the morning is all thanks to supercomputing. As the uses of the smart home rise, supercomputers are helping homeowners control their environment. All you have to do is tell your management software to increase the house temperature, and it’s done. The convenience will only increase as computing power rises.
3. Predicting the Climate
Scientists have been using the latest supercomputers to run climate prediction models for years. Your daily weather forecast accuracy comes from the modeling capabilities of a supercomputer. These machines are also being used to create ultra-accurate hurricane paths and even predict the location and severity of earthquakes. Imagine having an hour or more to prepare for a tornado touchdown or an impending earthquake. The amount of lives being saved now and in the future by such modeling is incalculable.
Supercomputers may save humanity as a whole. They help scientists refine their analyses of climate change by modeling different scenarios well into the future. These models help define and analyze climate change’s impact on biodiversity, organisms, resources, and the environment. This will help identify potentially unknown problems before they arise and offer solutions that the scientists may have missed.
4. Fighting Disease
Fighting disease and outbreaks have never been more relevant than now, and supercomputers are doing their part to help save lives. Models from computers help map outbreaks to track and minimize population exposures. They aid scientists in studying diseases and help in formulating and manufacturing cures and vaccines. Computers help develop new treatments for ailments. Imagine being able to add years to your life because a computer model helped develop the medicine that would cure you.
Machines such as MRIs and CT scans would not be possible without the aid of supercomputers. Computer-controlled robots assist in intricate surgeries. Tiny supercomputers are even being developed that will autonomously clear your arteries of life-threatening plaque. The possible ways that supercomputers can positively impact the medical industry are limitless.
5. Studying the Cosmos
Space holds some of the greatest mysteries known to man. A supercomputer can understand the incredibly complicated calculations that could take a person years to solve and comprehend in a matter of moments. Man has relied on computers to explore space from the beginning. Computers have been sent to the farthest edges of our solar system and beyond. They are aiding in mapping the stars and distant solar systems for habitable planets, controlling rovers on Mars, and predicting upcoming solar flares’ numbers and power. Supercomputers are being used to run models and explore the universe’s origins by recreating the Big Bang. Theories of faster-than-light travel are being worked out virtually, possibly advancing space travel decades before it would have been without the use of computers. The journey to Mars and beyond by humans will only be possible with supercomputers. With these machines, the stars are literally within our grasp.
6. Safely Modelling Nuclear Technology
In the not too distant past, the only way to test a nuclear weapon was to detonate one. As you can imagine, that presented some pretty serious potential complications. Nuclear testing was dangerous and controversial, from property destruction to the more severe consequences of personal injury and radioactive environmental issues. Enter the supercomputer. These amazing machines are being used to take the danger out of such testing and development by running realistic models and tests in the virtual world. Additionally, models are being run to help develop non-weaponized nuclear fission for the power industry. This will lead to cleaner, safer power production.
Humans have always been innovators. The last hundred years have seen exponential growth in technology. From landing on the moon to knowing what to wear tomorrow from the weather report, supercomputers have had an integral part in humanity’s development and achievements. Supercomputers have changed from units that span acres of warehouses to machines no larger than a desk. They can look back in time to the beginnings of the universe and see far into the future. Computers are used to answer complicated questions and even control your home. The applications of these machines are endless. Who knows what amazing things will be in store for supercomputers in the future.