China Tops List of Fastest Computers Again
SAN FRANCISCO — A new list of the world’s fastest supercomputers provides more evidence that the once-yawning technology gap between the United States and China is closing.
China dominates a biannual ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, called the Top500, that was published on Monday. Not only does China have the world’s fastest machine for the seventh consecutive time, it has the largest number of computers among the top 500 — a first for any country other than the United States.
Also for the first time, the world’s fastest supercomputer uses Chinese-made microprocessor chips instead of chips from Silicon Valley’s Intel.
Supercomputers are viewed in scientific circles as an indicator of national technology leadership, and they are vital for research in areas ranging from the development of new weapons and medicines, to the design of cars and consumer products. American computing experts and business executives have warned for years that leadership in supercomputing is vital to a range of national interests.
“Today even consumer detergent bottles are designed with supercomputers,” said Eric D. Isaacs, a physicist and provost of the University of Chicago. “The Chinese are getting good at building these computers, and it’s a competitive issue now for U.S. industry and national security.”
“今天，甚至连民用洗涤剂的瓶子都是用超级计算机设计的，”芝加哥大学物理学家、教务长埃里克·D·艾萨克斯(Eric D. Isaacs)说。“中国越来越善于建造这些计算机，现在对美国的产业和国家安全来说，这成了一个竞争力的问题。”
The United States primacy on the Top500 list has slipped for a number of reasons. Government support for supercomputing has been slowed by long-running debates on the level of federal spending on basic scientific research, as well as opposition to funding for industrial innovation that is not directly related to national security.
In the private sector, companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon invested billions of dollars in cloud-computing centers that don’t focus as much on solving scientific problems.
And last year, the United States blocked the sale of a number of advanced microprocessors to China over concerns they were being used in nuclear weapon development, which most likely accelerated the development of China’s own technology, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who helped create the list of the world’s fastest computers in 1993.
去年，美国封锁了一些先进微处理器对中国的出口，担心中国利用它们发展核武器，田纳西大学(University of Tennessee)的计算机科学家杰克·唐加拉(Jack Dongarra)说，这些处理器极有可能用来加快中国的自主技术研发。他曾在1993年参与创建最初的全球最快计算机榜单。
The Top500 list is maintained by Dr. Dongarra and Erich Strohmaier, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Individual computing centers report descriptions and performance to them twice a year.
这个500强榜单是由唐加拉和劳伦斯伯克利国家实验室(Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)的物理学家埃里希·施特罗迈尔(Erich Strohmaier)共同维护的。各计算中心每两年向他们汇报一次情况和性能。
In 2001, there were no Chinese supercomputers on the Top500. Now, China has 167 systems on the list compared to 165 from the United States. China also leads a more obscure category — total processing power, or the combined computing speeds of all of its supercomputers on the list.
The fastest machine, the Sunway TaihuLight System, was installed this year at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.
Despite those achievements, Intel still provided the chips for 91 percent of the machines on the list. And China is still catching up with the United States in state-of-the-art technologies, like software and the networking that links the thousands of chips in a modern supercomputer.
But that could soon change. Officials at the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, said the Chinese government has an ambitious $150 billion program to acquire as well as develop new technologies in various kinds of chips.
但这种情况可能很快就会发生改变。行业组织半导体行业协会(Semiconductor Industry Association)称，中国政府制定了一个野心勃勃的计划，打算投入1500亿美元购买和开发各类芯片的新技术。
After years of neglect, the United States does appear to be taking the competitive threat seriously, said John Neuffer, president of the S.I.A. “It’s an opportunity for us to double down on supercomputing and get ourselves back on track,” he said.
Last year, the Obama administration began a new effort to develop a so-called “exascale” supercomputer that would be 10 times faster than today’s fastest supercomputers. (An exaflop is a quintillion — one million trillion — mathematical instructions a second.) Computer scientists have argued that such machines will allow more definitive answers on crucial questions such as the danger posed by climate change.
Until President Obama signed the National Strategic Computing Initiative last July, the construction of the fastest American supercomputers had largely been driven by the nation’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management program, which was created in 1995 to simulate the testing and maintenance of nuclear weapons.
在奥巴马总统去年7月签署国家战略计算计划(National Strategic Computing Initiative)之前，建造美国最快的超级计算机的工作主要由美国核武储备管理计划(Stockpile Stewardship and Management)推动。该计划1995年启动，旨在模拟核武器的测试和维护。
While the Chinese have perfected the manufacture of traditional supercomputers pioneered by American companies like IBM and Cray, the United States may focus on new, more efficient supercomputers that might lead to machines intended for challenges like artificial intelligence, according to Larry Smarr, a physicist who directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at the University of California, San Diego.
中国完善了IBM和克雷(Cray)等美国公司开创的传统超级计算机的生产，然而美国现在的侧重点可能是效率更高的新型超级计算机。据加州大学圣迭戈分校加州通信与信息技术研究所(California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at the University of California, San Diego)所长拉里·斯马(Larry Smarr)介绍，这种超级计算机可能会催生专门应对人工智能等挑战的计算机。
One of the design challenges of the fastest computers is their vast power consumption. The world’s fastest supercomputer in China, which could fill a large warehouse, requires the same electric power needed to run roughly 15,000 homes. An exascale supercomputer will very likely require more than twice that amount of power, or roughly the amount of power produced by the Copper Mountain Solar Facility, the largest producer of solar power in the United States.
最快的计算机面临的一个设计挑战在于它们巨大的功耗。中国那台全世界运行速度最快的超级计算机的体积相当于一个大仓库，用电量大致相当于1.5万户家庭。艾级超级计算机的用电量很有可能是它的两倍多，或者说相当于美国最大的太阳能发电设施铜山太阳能项目(Copper Mountain Solar Facility)的发电量。
At the same time, even if the United States is able to design an exascale computer within the next decade, the Chinese could get there first. According to Dr. Dongarra, the Chinese government is committed to reaching the exascale goal by the end of this decade.
Because of funding shortages and technology challenges, “there has been a delay in getting the exascale launched in the U.S., and as a result, we’re further behind than we should be,” he said.
The Sunway supercomputer in Wuxi is a marvel of Chinese manufacturing prowess, Dr. Dongorra noted. The computer is based on 10.6 million processor “cores” spread across 40,960 microprocessors that work together. The chips are relatively slow individually — about the speed of the processor in Apple’s iPhone 6.
The Sunway machine does have its shortcomings. It has older memory-chip technology, meaning it is limited in the speed with which it can move data in and out of each processor when compared with the most powerful American supercomputers. And the new Chinese supercomputer is still based on American-made optical network technology that is used to connect the thousands of microprocessor chips.
Despite the fact that the Chinese now have the most supercomputers on the list, the United States still dominates the top 20, with 10 machines. There are now 105 supercomputers in Europe. Japan has 29 systems on the list, down from 37 systems in November.
Several American scientists compared what is going on now to the 1980s, when they worried that the nation was losing ground to Japanese supercomputers.
“Scientists might be saying, ‘I have to go to China to run my computations,’” said Dr. Smarr.