Intelligence Agency Wants an Even More Super Supercomputer

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The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is funding research that could fundamentally change the field of supercomputing.

Announced today, IARPA – the intelligence community’s research arm – awarded research contracts in support of its Cryogenic Computer Complexity, or C3, program that IARPA hopes will lead to a new generation of energy-efficient superconducting supercomputers that far exceed the capabilities of current supercomputers.

The multiyear research may also make the U.S. government the frontrunner over China, Russia, the European Union and Japan in the global race to build a computer capable of breaking the famed exaflop barrier – capable of a quintillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second.

The fastest supercomputers today, including China’s 55-petaflop Milky Way 2, are based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology that requires tens of megawatts to power. Scaled out on today’s technology, IARPA estimates an exascale-capable supercomputer would require hundreds of megawatts to power, which would need a power source akin to the Hoover Dam. It would also cost a fortune – Japan recently invested $1 billion in an attempt to build the world’s first exascale computer.

“The power, space and cooling requirements for current supercomputers based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology are becoming unmanageable,” Marc Manheimer, C3..

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