Feeds

Boffins: Roadrunner hypercomputer could drive a car

A bloody big car. Also, human obsolescence imminent

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

American nuke boffins who have just fired up the world's first petaflop hypercomputer* are extremely excited, and contend that the machine may enable them to accurately simulate important segments of the human brain. Conceivably, the mighty "Roadrunner" - as the computer is known - may exhibit capabilities verging on human cognition.

“Roadrunner ushers in a new era for science,” said Terry Wallace of the Los Alamos National Lab - birthplace of the atomic bomb.

“Just a week after formal introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago.”

Specifically, it seems that Roadrunner's unprecedented computational puissance has allowed the American boffins to "model more than a billion visual neurons ... to reach a new computing performance record of 1.144 petaflop/s. The achievement throws open the door to eventually achieving human-like cognitive performance in electronic computers".

The excited brainboxes reckon that this type of computing power would be able to achieve visual tasks which thus far only the human brain can accomplish, such as handling a car in dense rush-hour traffic.

At the moment you'd be talking about a pretty big car, however, as Roadrunner reportedly weighs about 227 tonnes and requires three megawatts of power - more than the total engine horsepower of several main battle tanks, with nothing left over for locomotion. Fag-packet calculations seem to indicate that any present-day Roadrunner equipped autonomous car would be more on the lines of a small warship than any kind of ground vehicle. Of course, remote control networked brain-in-a-box-as-a-service style efforts might be more what the American boffins have in mind.

Still, the new Los Alamos announcement serves to further flesh out emerging media yardsticks for hypercomputing puissance. It seems to be firmly established that a Roadrunner is equal to either 45 or possibly four-and-a-half standard mouse brains, depending on whether the speed of the simulated murine intellect is allowed for. We now have it that this in turn is roughly equal to one human visual cortex, a noticeable chunk of the human brain. (As an aside, in a development sure to enrage Douglas Adams fans, the average human appears to be between ten and a hundred times as intelligent as a mouse.)

Formally speaking, the Roadrunner is actually intended to model atomic bomb performance, thus validating the ageing US nuke stockpile's continued ability to destroy the world without the need for messy tests or pricey, controversial new warhead production. However, as a side-effect, this kind of computing could easily see the human race becoming a thing of the past in a completely different fashion.

"Because there are about a quadrillion synapses in the human brain, human cognition is a petaflop computational problem," hint the Los Alamos boffins. Plainly an even bigger lashup of game-console processors - a large percentage of Roadrunner's 116,640 cores are provided by modified PS3 Cells - could become self-aware and whup humanity's intellectual ass in short order.

Decapetaflop machines are expected as of 2011, according to the TOP500 computer-watch project; continuing this projection the first exaflop machine - and humanity's total humiliation by its machine superiors - can't be much further off than 2020. ®

* A computer which can generate unprecedented levels of hype. Take that mirror away.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Wanna keep your data for 1,000 YEARS? No? Hard luck, HDS wants you to anyway
Combine Blu-ray and M-DISC and you get this monster
Google+ GOING, GOING ... ? Newbie Gmailers no longer forced into mandatory ID slurp
Mountain View distances itself from lame 'network thingy'
US boffins demo 'twisted radio' mux
OAM takes wireless signals to 32 Gbps
Apple flops out 2FA for iCloud in bid to stop future nude selfie leaks
Millions of 4chan users howl with laughter as Cupertino slams stable door
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Students playing with impressive racks? Yes, it's cluster comp time
The most comprehensive coverage the world has ever seen. Ever
Run little spreadsheet, run! IBM's Watson is coming to gobble you up
Big Blue's big super's big appetite for big data in big clouds for big analytics
Seagate's triple-headed Cerberus could SAVE the DISK WORLD
... and possibly bring us even more HAMR time. Yay!
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.