By 2018, supercomputers could operate 100 times faster than the human brain

December 2, 2010 by Amara D. Angelica

The breakthrough (see Breakthrough Chip Technology Lights the Path to Exascale Computing) announced Wednesday by IBM researchers has been long sought: a way to use pulses of light in waveguides instead of electrons in wires for chip connections. Electrons generate heat, which limits has fast chips can work and requires a lot of power for cooling. Light has no such limitations.

The new technology could accelerate the performance of supercomputers a thousand times, taking us from the current 2.6 petaflops (1015 or quadrillion operations per second) Chinese Tianhe-1A supercomputer to an exaflop (1018 or a quintillion operations per second) supercomputer in just 8 years (“flops” stands for “floating point operations per second”).

And that means a supercomputer that runs 100 times faster than a human brain operating at peak capacity, currently estimated to be around 1016 operations per second by Ray Kurzweil and others.

That doesn’t mean a machine would be smarter than a human; that would require software. Really smart software. More on that next week.

The wild ride ahead. Blue Waters is a 10 petaflops IBM supercomputer scheduled for 2011. HPCS = "high-performance computer systems" (Credit: IBM)