Monday, October 29, 2012
BBC Clip - clarification required.
Today a BBC clip on the Titan supercomputer just appeared, in which various people talk about the computer and I mention some possible applications, mentioning goals to 'save the environment, cure all known diseases and solve the world's energy problems'. However, the clip as edited may give some people the impression that we will actually be able to solve all these great societal problems with Titan! However, of course, all the computer is likely to be able to do is to make contributions to these fields. For example, theoretically, it would be able to screen millions of compounds on hundreds of protein targets, and that might help us design better, safer drugs. Also, it may be able to perform new simulations useful in understanding biomass pretreatment and processes in the environment. Also, I mention in the clip atomic detail models of the living cell, which may be 'theoretically' become possible with exascale supercomputing, but only on the microsecond simulation timescale, such that we need also to pursue ensemble based approaches on smaller systems that can extend simulation timescales. What was not mentioned in the clip, but was said to the reporter, was the significant, fundamental algorithmic and methodological problems to be overcome in order to exploit the full power of these new machines. There is little support for tackling these challenges, at least from my perspective, and primarily for this reason the medium-term usefulness of supercomputing in the biological and medical sciences seems rather uncertain at this point.