Today the Barcelona Supercomputing Center announced the arrival of the MareNostrum 5 supercomputer will come by the end of 2020. In just over a year, the MareNostrum 5 will be one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world with a power of 200 petaflops. What does this mean? We could say that it multiplies by 17 the processing capacity of the MareNostrum (its predecessor) or that it is 10,000 times more powerful than the first of the MareNostrum saga, which was born in 2004. But there is more.
The first supercomputer, the CDC 6600, was developed in 1964, was used to analyze several experiments performed at CERN and was the fastest in the world between 1964 and 1969. It cost about 5 million dollars in its day and had a power of 3 megaflops, which was 10 times more than any computer at the time, but 100,000 million times less powerful than MareNostrum 5.
What will this power be used for? The Japanese supercomputer Fujitsu Flagship 2020 will start operating in April 2021. It will have a capacity of 1,000 petaflops (1 exaflop, the same that is attributed to a human brain). Supercomputers that work with this power are able to simulate in a more realistic way any type of process. The Flagship 2020 will be used for earthquake simulations, drug design, weather analysis and new materials. At Shinshu University (Japan), they are working with the predecessor of the Flagship 2020 to try to solve one of humanity’s biggest problems: access to drinking water.
Other supercomputers, such as the Cray XC40, perform weather simulations to alert floods and improve crops. The Children’s Hospital of Phoenix (USA) works with a supercomputer to carry out personalized genetic analyzes in a short time, diagnosis of diseases, evaluation of drugs at the individual level and prospects of future diseases in fathers, mothers and children.
But not all is great. The World Bank warns of certain dangers linked to increasing the power of computers. “Supercomputing can cause significant job losses, due to mass automation. We also run the risk of exacerbating the current racial, gender and socioeconomic inequalities that are reflected in the technologies we create.” Other dangers that stand out are linked to abusive use of Big Data, problems with privacy and influence in the economy through cryptocurrency mining.