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View Full Version : Watson - A Real Need for Supercomputers



Neo
3rd March 2011, 03:46 PM
IBM's new talking/thinking machine, Watson, is indeed the beginning of a technological marvel. This super computer can already match wits with the world's brightest minds by quickly accessing terabytes of information stored within memory. Imagine, a few decades from now, when computing speeds are increased a thousand fold, what an intelligent machine like this can do? Better yet imagine when companies, like Google or Microsoft, add supercomputing to their search engine capability.

When I think about it supercomputing boggles my mind. Not only does it seem to be the best and most natural step for technology to take, super computers will open up entirely new worlds for all of us to see.

Can you imagine the scientific progress any nation could make by allowing every citizen the right to access mankind's entire knowledge base; and not only that but the ability to instantly relate and quantify all available information associated with a given problem. Given this approach to scientific problem solving mankind could, very soon, be solving complex problems in hours or days which, heretofore, took months and years to comprehend.

Here are some fields of scientific endeavor where I believe supercomputing can excel. These fields are by no means definitive but rather represent a cross section of human knowledge where a lot of data has already been collected.

Medical Drug and Genome Research
Mineral Exploration and Development
Metallurgy
Weather Research
Fuel Improvement and Conservation
Transportation Innovation and Design
Food Production
Water Conservation and Infrastructure
Electric Power Generation and Infrastructure

As you can see this list can be made endless but these few scientific areas are of particular importance to the future of mankind. The more we know about the human genome, for example, the better humanity can manage diseases and thus the use of medicines. This will be a giant stride for mankind given the high cost, and often wasted effort, spent on ineffective medication.

Our President has decreed America is in urgent need of a better education system to promote innovation and development across the spectrum of science. I could not agree more. Without much more innovation, particularly with America's failing infrastructure, America will lose her lead in scientific development and thus her competiveness in the world market place. In short the decision to innovate is not optional--it is an essential element to America's successful future.

If you are still wondering why super computers and scientific innovation are essential to America's future let me offer you these numbers to make my point. The human population of our planet now stands at 7 billion. By the year 2100, less than 90 years from now, the world population will be over 31 billion. Add to this the world's oil and fresh water supplies cannot continue to support human populations of this magnitude. Also note our planet's weather is changing for the worst, causing crop production to decrease and ocean's to rise.

For those who doubt these population numbers, the numbers can easily be confirmed with a calculator or a spreadsheet like Excel. Simply start with the number 7 billion, the present human population of our planet and add 1.7% per year, the historic, human growth rate on our planet, for however many years you want to project. You will quickly see our planet's human population grows exponentially. In fact between the years 2090 and 2100, a single decade, humanity will increase by nearly 5 billion people.

It seems the present answer to all overpopulation problems is "green energy". That is, no matter what comes, solar power, wind power and grain power will save the day; but what about fresh water, adequate crop production, minerals and mostly the infrastructure to house, employ and maintain 31 billion human souls; will "green energy" solve all these problems?

Getting back to supercomputing and human evolution it is possible for mankind to offset a bleak future providing we somehow draw a line on how many humans our planet can support. By that I mean humanity calmly and intelligently needs to develop a working system of birth control in order to reduce human populations. If and when this ever happens then I believe humanity can and will go on to realize great accomplishments and prosperity.

We Americans now need to use every contrivance and facility, we can imagine, to increase our knowledge and thus our innovation. At present the best two ways we can achieve this goal of innovation is by upgrading our educational system and by developing bigger and faster super computers; that is education will give us the means to be better problem solvers while supercomputing will give us the speed to quickly access and analyze specific data. This is not, in any way, suggesting computers should replace human beings at the design table but rather that human beings learn better how to rapidly access large amounts of technical information.

Jim Osborne is a retired programmer and Veteran living in New Mexico. Jim's interest include writing, computers, investing and billiards.

Jim's favorite quote is by Jon Stewart...

Living in the limelight, the universal dream for those who wish to seem. Those who wish to be must put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying theme -- RUSH, "Limelight; And now, here it is, your moment of Zen.