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High-performance computing represents the leading edge of what is possible when it comes to data crunching. Industry, governments, and academics use supercomputers to solve hugely complex problems, perform advanced data-modeling and analytics, and manage large digital-service infrastructures. This produces advances in everything from weather forecasting to airplane design to energy efficiency. In essence, a supercomputer combines tens of thousands of individual processors performing akin to a symphony orchestra—many diverse units, with their own specific function, working in unison to produce an outcome not possible with just one computer working alone.
Although the United States operated 263 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers in 2011, that number dropped to 199 in 2015—a 25 percent decrease. China has operated the world’s most powerful supercomputer since 2013, and is slowly catching up to the United States overall; it was running 109 of the 500 most powerful supercomputers in 2015. The gradual erosion of the United States’ global leadership position is a potential concern because supercomputing capability has implications for economic competitiveness and national security. For more on this issue, including recommendations for U.S. policymakers, see ITIF’s recent report, “The Vital Importance of High-Performance Computing to U.S. Competitiveness.”
PPhoto Credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr