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Monday, October 31, 2005

Meet the world's fastest supercomputer, BlueGene/L

The Record, a California-based newspaper, reports on BlueGene/L, the world's fastest supercomputer. They write: "It is so fast, its speed is equal to every man, woman and child in the world doing 60,000 calculations per second." That figure also roughly equals the number of people the supercomputer could kill, because, like most supercomputers, BlueGene/L will be doing nuclear weapons research. The goal? To "determine how to make weapons safe and reliable." Apparently no one thought of just dismantling them. BlueGene/L has a slightly slower twin, affectionately named Purple, which "gives researchers accurate 3-D simulations of a nuclear weapon's performance." Part of a $200 million contract with IBM, the project illuminates yet again the direct link between advancing computer technology and weapons research. Or, as an IBM press release puts it,
These extraordinary efforts were made possible by a [government] partnership with American industry that has reestablished American computing preeminence.
Well, thank god for that.

Meanwhile, it will surely be comforting to know that two-thirds of all cell phones sold this year will be camera phones. As the technology becomes ubiquitous over the next few years, we can expect almost every possibility for privacy to disappear. Of course, critics will maintain that public space has always been just that, public, and that we have never had an expectation of privacy in those locations. However, the key difference with cell phone cameras is that they are instantly networkable. As Alexis Gerard, president of Future Image, says,
"The explosive growth in personal network-connected image capture devices is a fundamental shift, comparable for instance to the rapid spread of PCs in the 90’s -- but on a much larger scale."
It's just a press of a button from capturing an image to sharing it with other interested parties, from police to corporations to vigilantes. Always growing, today "cellular networks cover 80 percent of the world's population, which amounts to a target market of 5.5 billion people."

However, as USA today reports in a story titled, "Poll: Many like tech gizmos but are frustrated," Americans are almost equally in love with and frustrated by their techno-gadgets. While 72 percent of Americans are "comfortable" or get "excited" about new technologies, 64 percent say "they have trouble trying to figure out how to work the darn things some, most or all of the time." It hardly gives one confidence that Americans are embracing so eagerly technologies that they cannot understand. Asked to rank various gadgets by whether they are necesseties or not, Americans reported that
(54%) consider... a cellphone; 47% say a desktop PC, 35%, cable TV or satellite, 28%, high-speed Internet, 22%, a DVD player, 17%, a laptop computer and 14%, a digital camera.
This ranking of needs may come as a surprise to some of the 2000 children, sans computers, who die every year from malaria every day in the world.

In a final bit of technology news, Science.com reports on the US military's quest to control the weather - and to turn it into another weapon in their arsenal. Weather control
offers the ability to degrade the effectiveness of enemy forces. That could come from flooding an opponent’s encampment or airfield to generating downright downpours that disrupt enemy troop comfort levels. On the flipside, sparking a drought that cuts off fresh water can stir up morale problems for warfighting foes.

Even fooling around with fog and clouds can deny or create concealment – whichever weather manipulation does the needed job.
Is it possible to know too much? As usual, the scientists say no. In an article forebodingly entitled, "Scientific Ignorance May Have Lasting Repercussions," Roger Martin says, "We've been content about our scientific ignorance for too long. Eventually, what we don't know is going to cost us." Maybe, but what about what we do know? Martin uses a skillful manipulation to dodge an important issue. He uses "us" and "our" to give the impression that scientific ignorance, or it's opposite, scientific knowledge, is somehow held or shared democratically. In fact, scientific and technological knowledge are not shared democratically. Nor are they democratically accountable. When was the last time you voted for a scientist? Don't worry, that's just how they like it. The nukes are safe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fucking hell, can't these damn spammers be avoided some how? Keep thinking it'll be an interesting comment...

Anyhow, like the blog. The news and commentary here is broadly researched and more relevant than a lot of what passes for "progressive" media these days.

Thu Nov 03, 04:07:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What If This Could All Happen Automatically,
with a simple push of a button.....

Mon Nov 07, 03:38:00 PM 2005  

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