Superconducting computing is a direction being researched since the 1960s, with speeds exceeding those of semiconductor technologies and happening in matters of nanoseconds. The reason scientists believe supercomputers are very important in future developments is the astounding amount of data it can process in fields that would normally require weeks, if not months of programming. Weather forecasting, 3D nuclear testsm aerodynamic research, probabilistic analysis and molecular dynamics simulations and even collision studies – they can all be performed in feasible amounts of time.
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity – other known as IARPA – is a United States spy research agency and has begun the research in building supercomputers under the project name Cryogenic Computer Complexity initiative this Friday. The world’s current fastest supercomputer is held by China – Milky Way 2, or Tianhe-2 – and has a speed capacity of 33.86 quadrillion floating point operations (petaflops) per second. IARPA’s C3 program is planning to build a supercomputer that is nearly 40 times faster than Milky Way 2, reaching a baffling speed of 1,000 petaflops per second which will be put to use in decoding encrypted messages.
Its goal is to manage building the most powerful supercomputer in a 5-year long that would not only exceed China’s Milky Way 2 speeds but they will also be focusing on designing it as a less energy-taxing piece of technology. But such immense calculation and data processing giants do come with a very expensive cost. The greatest concern with supercomputers, besides the staggering budget that is required for their development, is the complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology they use that is slowly becoming difficult to handle as research agencies strive to break the speed barrier. The space they take, the cooling that is vital to the supercomputer’s systems and the tens of megawatts of power it consumes to remain online are concerns that cannot be taken lightly.
IARPA will be working closely with IBM, Northrop Grumman Corportaion and Raytheon-BBN to develop a series of supercomputers that break away from the metal oxide semiconductors that are currently used in this technology, and making use of cryogenic memory that will allow more capacity and speed, for less space and less power consumed, with overheating no longer being an issue. They believe they might be in possession of the key to achieving this and are studying on how to make use of the Josephson effect – creating electrical currents by cooling down copper wires to the absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius), a point where they become superconductive without requiring voltage applied to them.
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