We cannot afford a supercomputer gap

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Check out this NYT infographic on the distribution of the world's fastest computers. Of course, the Times doesn't tell you why this matters. They just say:

While the U.S. has the world's fastest supercomputers, it faces increased pressure from countries like India and China.

As I've argued before, it's more or less irrelevant who has the world's fastest computer. Computers are a tool, and a faster computer is just a faster tool, which may or may not be relevant depending on what job you're trying to use the tool for. There are jobs where having a faster computer is important (e.g., climate simulation) but there aren't that many of them (especially as many of these machines get their performance from extreme parallelism and many problems can't be parallelized efficiently) and even then having a fast computer is more a signal that you're mounting a serious research program of the type that requires that kind of computational power than something that's important in and of itself. Instead, though, having a fast computer has become a national prestige issue; sort of the 21st century equivalent of having the world's tallest building.

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