When it comes to simulation, no project is too big for NASA’s supercomputing team. Recent efforts have included modeling of the Milky Way galaxy, examination of the world’s oceans, and simulation of the birth of the universe.
”We solve problems across all areas of NASA -- aerospace, earth science, and space science,” Bryan Biegel, deputy of NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Division at NASA Ames, told Design News. “And the most powerful tool we can use to advance our knowledge is high-fidelity modeling.”
Indeed, the modeling that takes place at NASA Ames could be stoically described “high fidelity.” Using the agency’s biggest supercomputer, Pleiades, scientists have a stunning 162,496 Intel Xeon processor cores at their disposal, rated at 2.88 quadrillion floating point operations per second. To put it another way, the computer’s speed is such that a man punching in an operation per second on a calculator would take about 90 million years to accomplish what Pleiades can do in a single second.
The speed would be impressive enough by itself, but NASA also demonstrates the results of its simulations on a so-called “hyperwall,” which can read data directly from Pleiades file system over an InfiniBand connection. Hyperwall-2, the most recent embodiment of the technology, is said to be the world’s highest-resolution scientific visualization environment. Consisting of 128 screens, the 23 ft x 10 ft wall of displays is capable of rendering a quarter-billion pixel graphics.
The numbers are, in a word, overwhelming, and so are the results. During Design News’ recent tour inside NASA Ames (thanks to the sponsorship of Littelfuse Inc.), the agency’s supercomputing team demonstrated its stunning computing power. Using the hyperwall, it provided a visual depiction of NASA’s heavy lift launch vehicle, which will one day be “the most powerful rocket that mankind has produced.” The agency also showed us a simulation of the birth of universe, the evolution of the Milky Way, and the heat flow of the world’s oceans.
Check out this video, as we provide a glimpse of those simulations -- part of NASA’s effort to advance the state of human knowledge.
Thanks for covering this; it's really cool stuff, Rob. I have written about some of the super-computer simulations and it's truly amazing. It's good to see NASA remains the innovator it always has been as an agency and continues to demonstrate to the commercial sector some of the latest and greatest technology, as well as show us more of the world and universe around us!
Nice article on the power of computing that man has designed, built, and programmed. One wonders why the human brain continues to process in a uniquely human way that converts an overload of sensory inputs into a coherent existance. And yet, the super computer can beat us in Jeapordy, compute our beginnings, and provide a visual simulation of a heavy vehicle launch. However, one has to keep all this in perspective, the supercomputer has an OFF switch (at least all the Skynet people hope so).
In all this, our brains came about by evolutionary chance mutations? Wonder if the supercomputer could calculate the odds of a human evolutionary path using probabilities?
Yes, it's interesting how machines that humans themselves programmed beat us at our own games in every aspect of the word, GTOLover. This is quite an interesting thought to ponder, although i wouldn't begin to have a scientific answer for it. I suppose religious people (one of whom I am not) would say it has something to do with the soul, or even non-religious people might say it has to do with our emotions (although those can be scientifically proven to have something to do with how our brains work). For now, I suppose, it remains a mystery and subject of debate!
I don't find it difficult to believe that a computer can be programmed to beat us at our own games. A computer can be programmed to "brute force" problems that are well defined, such as games.
For example, the game of chess. A computer can "look ahead" through millions more moves than any human can. This allows it to win through simple brute force. Ironically, it took many years before any computer could routinely beat the best human players. Now that computers are powerful enough to literally work through an almost infinite number of permutations, they are difficult to impossible for a human to beat.
However, a computer can't really figure anything out, or come up with a single original thought. (Something that the average 2 year old human can do.) It can only increment in on a solution following a script that some human put in it.
If you had access to all of the information on the internet, and the ability to look it up infinitely fast, you could probably beat anybody at Jeopardy. That is essentially what "WATSON" did. (another "brute force" solution). The computer is not really "thinking", or coming up with any original thought. It is just interpreting questions, and regurgitating factoids from a huge database.
Computers are simply very fast, and have almost infinite data available. Our minds will never duplicate those attributes.
But, I don't believe that computers will ever duplicate some of the processes of our minds. Thus, I don't believe that computers beat us "in every aspect of the word".
"I don't believe that computers will ever duplicate some of the processes of our minds. " These are famous last words in my opinion. It's just the latest in a series of defeatist attitudes taken by someone who cannot himself figure out how to do the task at hand. Never heard any of them? Let me enlighten you. Gallileo was told he was mad for suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Today, we accept that as a given. Columbus was told he would fall off the edge of the world if he tried to sail around the world. We know he was right. Thomas Alva Edison warned people about the dangers of alternating current and built an electric chair to prove it. People once thought that computers required rooms of circuits and therefore no one would ever have a computer in the home, and here we are. Many scoffed at Jules Verne for suggesting a nuclear powered submarine or travel to the moon, and the United States built the sub and launched men to the moon and brought them home safely. Another thought is that we would never see gas go above $1 per gallon, and boy did we shoot that one in the backside.
One thing I have learned is never to say never. If you stay pessimistic, you will discourage tomorrow's brightest young minds from trying to do anything new. Isn't that what we want anyhow? Someone to try something new? Mary Shelley warned us about creating life from dead people, and yet we do organ transplants daily. How many times did your mother say "Don't do that! You're gonna break your neck?" Most of us did not break our necks - nor did we all listen to our mothers. Sometimes people just want to live in a perfect world where everything stays the same and nobody wants to change anything. Not me. I want to change what I can while still preserving what must be preserved. That is our legacy as human beings. We push at what people tell us we can't do until we find a way to do it, and then we wonder if we should have been more careful.
Perhaps my choice of words was a little unclear. Computers already duplicate "some" of the processes of our minds. What I meant was that they would never duplicate all of the processes of our minds.
I will stand by my prediction that computers will never duplicate certain processes of our minds. This is not meant to be pessimistic, but a testament to the wonders of the human mind. (Obviously 78 feels differently, but that's OK.)
I agree with your points, ttemple. It's true, computers can calculate more rapidly than human brains and will always be steps ahead in some ways, which is why we appreciate them and need them for some things. But there are definitely thought processes unique to humans that will always be, in my opinion, even more valuable than what computers bring to the equation (pun intended :)).
I don't think so... Computers will never as you say it beat us... They may do some operations faster than us, in higher quantity then us and even with fewer mistakes. However I guarantee you the most powerful computer in the world is only as smart as the collection of people that programmed it. If you went through an automata theory class you would know that a computer cannot write code in any language. It can cut and paste code that was already prewritten for it but that is. Everything you see in that screen was calculated by functions that the engineering team inserted in the simulation. If anyone should impress you it's not the supercomputer... It's the people that worked on days end to make it happen the supercomputer is just an aid. As for evolution what can happen, will happen pretty much sums it up. Yes millions of molecules can gather together and form a single cell organism. We know this can happen because it has happened already. The forces that caused this are a matter of religion
Atheist: Chaos theory
Agnostics (ME): Can't prove, Don't care, Thankful to be here bye....
Interesting thought, but it discounts the chance that we don't run out of energy or don't destroy ourselves before we finally understand how thinking actually works.
Is it possible for someone to understand their thinking processes to sufficient detail to be able to program a computer with intelligence?
I think so.
Will we as a species survive long enough to achieve this?
I don't know.
a 3rd option is that we build a quantum computer modelled on synapes and the likes and hit on the magic formula of our brains and the thing begins to think for itself and we're left none the wiser as to how thinking works. We may have to ask it (if it wants to tell us). Watch "The Forbin Project" from circa 1973 to understand where I'm coming from.
I remember Bill Gates saying we will never need more than 640k and someone else said we would never fly, and the list goes on. I don't think we have yet reached the level of understanding necessary to say with absolute certainty that this or that will never happen in technology.
Thanks, ervin0072002, and well said. In a similar vein, robots don't think or feel or do anything else--they're machines, programmed by humans to do whatever it is they're doing, and they only do it well (or not) because of those humans' programming and because of the humans who designed the sensors and other components they use to do whatever it is they're doing.
@Ann, GTOlover, etmax, I actually think it will be possible for humans to build conscious machines that are smarter than we are. It won't be done by conventional programming and functional design. The resulting organisms will be neural networks with many sensors whose thoughts and motivations are as unpredictable as any other animal's. Look up the work of Prof. Pieter Abbeel, UC Berkeley and see how his robots are trained by observing a process. Also see the goal of neuroscientist Henry Markram to build a supercomputer model of the human brain in ten years. He has a $1.3Bn grant from the European Union to work on it. Others are working on 3D printing biological material like nerve cells.
Once we understand an architecture that works at a simple level, it a matter of making the architecture massively complex. We can't predict whether these biological machines will be completely different entities or just slowly melded with human brains until we evolve into a new animal. Wouldn't it be cool if we could navigate by gravitational or magnetic fields so we could be like turtles who swim thousands of miles across an ocean to return to our place of birth? What if we could see a broader color spectrum as birds seem to do? What if we could do complex matrix algebra in our heads and develop a deeper mathematical model of the universe than our present feeble brains could attain? And would it be too much to hope that we could have the moral sensitivity of Ghandi or Thoreau or Rachel Carson?
78RPM and others, you may be right about what's possible in the distant future. At DN we're well aware of some of the most out-there developments in robotics and 3D printing, such as those you mention, and have reported on many of them. But that's quite different from talking about what the state of the art is now. And there's still a huge gap between sentient biological systems and machines. I brought in robotics because that's where I see the distortions most often, such as the human tendency to attribute human-like characteristics such as feelings or especially self-awareness to non-humans. This phenomenon is called anthropomorphization. All sorts of things may be possible in the future of technology. But self-aware robots don't exist now and I don't see how they can ever exist at least in the near future. To date, self-awareness has first depended on a biological entity, which robots are not, and second on...well, we don't really know what but humans have it and it's not entirely clear whether other species do. But machines sure don't. I find it curious that so many seem to think that if we just build the hardware--a sophisticated enough bio-mechanic machine modeled on our biological brain--the "software" will somehow spontaneously arrive, i.e., the machine will somehow become self-aware. This is just another version of the Frankenstein or golem myth. I think perhaps we've been reading/seeing too much science fiction.
The [atomic] bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives. -- Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Navy, 1945
Comparing biological engineering to computers is similar to comparing the atom bomb to explosives. If we confine our thinking to computers with their current 2D architecture, we will not achieve conscious machines. 3D is needed to achieve the neural density needed. Henry Markram has replied to critics who say we don't know enough about brain architecture yet by saying that we do know a lot about small parts of the brain. We will build more modules based upon what we know. Nature did not start with a grand design (well, some people do believe that but I don't); rather, a lot evolved by accidents that were successful enough to survive.
Rene Decartes justified cruel experiments upon animals by saying they were just automata whose cries were nothing more than the clang of a bell being hit. It's hard to imagine that there are people who can look into the eyes of an animal and not see something of themselves -- and I'm not saying you're one of them. But it's clear that animals can experience pain and fear and suffering. In that way they are much like ourselves, even if they are not as intelligent. This is not anthropomorphization; it's empathy. Any result of research on biological machine intelligence will not result in an improved human, but likely an entirely new species -- and some new biological species have already been developed in labs. We cannot predict what it will be like. But I'm sure that humans are not the end point of evolution and that somehow we will have a hand in developing our descendants, for better or for worse.
78RPM, I agree with some of what you said. For example, empathy for animals is not anthropomorphization. I see more of myself than you might think looking not only into animals' eyes, but also in caring for plants. And I think dolphins are a good candidate for being at least as smart as we are. But that has nothing to do with the anthropomorphization of machines, which is what I was talking about: it's not the same subject. I think the term "biological machine intelligence" makes no sense. There aren't any biological machines, and the idea that somehow creating enough neural density will produce biological-like consciousness is, as I pointed out before, science fiction. Although in the distant future this might be possible, I think that, at least for now, this is ascribing god-like powers to humans that we simply don't have.
Really well put, Ann. All this debate over whether robots will actually be human can be a bit frustrating sometimes. There are always things that will separate us--chief among them this self awareness you describe so well. I don't think even the most sophisticated engineering feat every achieved can replicate that and the absolute depth and complexity of human emotions and motivations. Quite an interesting debate, though!
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Elizabeth. I've been reading sci-fi since I was 11, and have read the major works that assume robots can somehow acquire self-awareness, or even that it's inevitable that they somehow must acquire it. While these were extremely entertaining, when this assumption is made outside the context of sci-fi it reminds me a bit of the famous "then a miracle occurs" S. Harris cartoon about the scientist's formula for the origin of the universe, which you can see here: http://www.sciencecartoonsplus.com/pages/gallery.php
That is a great cartoon to exemplify this idea, Ann! I am not a religious person but while I think there are perhaps things in the human world that may be explained that way, when it comes to science, things are a bit more definitive. miracles don't occur in machines, and robots are machines. Let's not forget that!
Glad you liked it, Elizabeth. My universe has room for both science and other ways of observing. I try not to combine them or get them mixed up. I like your phrasing "miracles don't occur in machines."
Yes, Ann, I feel exactly the same way. There is room to be both scientifically minded and spiritually minded if one feels so inclined to be that way. Or you can choose one or the other if that's your thing. Personally, I try to keep my mind open as possible for "both science and other ways of observing," as you put it...sounds like you are the same!
Yes, Ann! Nice to meet another one. :) I think it's important as humans to have an open mind but as journalists I think to be open to all possibilities in many aspects of life is also a good quality. And especially as science and technology journalists who are faced with logical experimentation in the work we cover but also have the responsibility to look at this research from different angles and not have too narrow a view. I am sure there are more of us out there. :)
Hi GTOlover, the answer to your question of why our brain processes information in the unique ways it does, is efficiency. The brain human brain dissipates about 20W of electricity, compared to the 4MW of a typical supercomputer of the type that I think you are comparing. They typically fill a large room compared to the smaller than football size of our brains.
Imagine how well we would have survived having to drag a mobile 4MW power plant while being so top heavy with a room on our shoulders :-)
The way our brain processes information is similar all other life (with brains) allowing a spider with a brain the size of the pointy end of a pin to weave intricate webs and go about its day to day routine.
And even though we like to think we have designed machines that are superior at our own games, there are areas where the best computers lag behind the best human minds. These are creativity and pattern recognition.
Sure there are examples of quasi creativity with computers, but the pure inpirational creativity people achieve (including eg. designing computers) is in a whole different league. A large part of this is the fact that even after years of research we still only have a very rudimentary idea of what creativity really is. Also creativity in regard to the unknown.
In regard to pattern recognition consider you meet someone at the age of say 16 or 17 that is about the same age. and for what ever reason part ways. A human can be walking down a street in a completely unfamiliar area some 50 or more years later and see that person in the crowd with all of the signs of aging dying of hair, addition of glasses new scars, etc etc, and still recognise that person while never actually expecting to see them or be actively looking for them, and that in a see of faces. and all within seconds. It also works for a long lost familiar face in a see of familiar faces. As far as I'm aware while the best computers running the highest speed algorithms can only run through a list of faces and compare them sequentially, and are not particularly tolerant of changes. The person having seen 1000's to 10's of 1000's of faces over a lifetime will know which is a new face and which one is familiar in an instant.
Similar things are at play when you hear a familar tune after years and know after 3 bars what the name is
Obviously not everyone can pull this off, just as not everyone is creative, but the best compared to the best I don't see our pattern recognition abilities being outdone until quantum computers have been played with for a while.
The main reason we excel in these areas is that the human brain is around 100 billion computers running in parallel at around 200Hz and according to the university of Alberta due to the way the neurons are wired the brain performs roughly 20 million billion calculations per second. Of course this isn't the full story, because neurons are analogue computers with maybe 1000 or so levels of sensitvity which magnifies the potential again, but of course not all of the brain is involved in our thinking processes, so suffice to say its processing power (for the right type of problem) is beyond the realm of current (non-quantum) computers.
Never the less, I certainly have a healthy respect for the designers of large computing arrays such as NASA's and their brainchilds, as they are an extention of the mind of researchers and engineers the world over and have revolutionised life in affluent countries by allowing them to concentrate on the aspects of problems better handled by the little grey cells.
I worked for a guy who developed technology that was able to measure the power developed at a single neuron's synapse. This multiplied by the number of neurons gives the peak output which he stated was around 20W.
I had the same reaction. With all the money and technology they have access to, the average sports venue has better looking large scale video. I would have thought they could have gotten the joints between the monitors much smaller.
There are four things shown in this video: 1. Simulation of launch of NASA heavy lift vehicle. 2. Simulation of flow of world's oceans. 3. Simulation of birth of the universe (notice the clock counting down from 13 billion years to one). 4. Flow of air around helicopter rotor.
It has only taken 1000 years for science to finally catch up with what the ancient Mayan .. Wait until science realize you can travel those cosmic strands to other galaxies much faster that the speed of light .
Five years ago, optical heart rate tracking seemed like an obvious successor to the popular chest straps used by many fitness buffs, but the technology has faced myriad engineering challenges on its way to market acceptance.
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