"Hacking the Milky Way" --China's Tianhe-2 Can Run 100,000 Times as Many Calculations per Second as there are Stars in Our Galaxy
China’s newest supercomputer, Tianhe-2, translates aptly to MilkyWay-2. There are an estimated 300 billion stars in our galaxy. Tianhe-2 can run 100,000 times as many calculations per second as there are stars in the galaxy. Tianhe-2 is now the fastest computer on Earth, doubling the speed of its American rival, Titan—and it has made its debut two years ahead of schedule using six times as many cores (3.1 million) and twice the power (17.8 MW) as Titan to achieve double the speed (33.86 petaflop/s).
If supercomputer evolution continue along its current trajectory, sometime around 2018—maybe a little later—the world’s fastest computer will breach the exaflop/s barrier. That’s five times faster than the entire June 2013 Top500 list combined.
Futurist and filmmaker Jason Silva says telescopes “extend the optic nerve of humanity.” Modern supercomputers are the brain’s James Webb. They extend, expand, accelerate, and augment our mental powers. We have no doubt that among the many tasks that China will put its new found supercomputing power to work on, helping explore the Universe will be high on their list. As Silva says, "Let's find those alien planets and killer asteroids before they find us!"
China's supercomputing advances are a certain precursor to what will prove to be an evolutionary leap: quantum computers."Quantum computers can efficiently render every physically possible quantum environment, even when vast numbers of universes are interacting. Quantum computation is a qualitatively new way of harnessing nature," says David Deutch, an Israeli-British physicist at the University of Oxford who pioneered the field of quantum computation and is a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Quantum computers, says Deutch, have the potential to solve problems that would take a classical computer longer than the age of the universe.
In a recent development beyond the Great Wall od China, scientists from the Group of Philip Walther from the Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna succeeded in prototyping a new and highly resource efficient model of a quantum computer -- the boson sampling computer. Quantum computers work by manipulating quantum objects as, for example, individual photons, electrons or atoms and by harnessing the unique quantum features.
Not only do quantum computers promise a dramatic increase in speed over classical computers in a variety of computational tasks; they are designed to complete tasks that even a supercomputer would not be able to handle. In recent years, there has been a rapid development in quantum technology the realization of a full-sized quantum computer is still very challenging.
While it is still an exciting open question which architecture and quantum objects will finally lead to the outperformance of conventional supercomputers, current experiments show that some quantum objects are better suited than others for particular computational tasks.
The huge advantage of photons -- a particular type of bosons -- lies in their high mobility. The research team from the University of Vienna in collaboration with scientist from the University of Jena (Germany) has recently realized a so-called boson sampling computer that utilizes precisely this feature of photons. They inserted photons into a complex optical network where they could propagate along many different paths.
"According to the laws of quantum physics, the photons seem to take all possible paths at the same time. This is known as superposition. Amazingly, one can record the outcome of the computation rather trivially: one measures how many photons exit in which output of the network," explains Philip Walther from the Faculty of Physics.
The Daily Galaxy via Singularity Hub and the University of Vienna