Saturday, September 22, 2012

What the computer revolution has done

That computing has become immensely more powerful in recent decades veers on the cliche. I recently got a few reminders of precisely how much distance we have moved.

Cory Doctorow tells us that the computation that goes into one google query is roughly the same as all the computing done for the entire Apollo program.

Jay Goldberg is astonished to discover pretty powerful no-name tablets now go for $45. One can see whole new world opening up with ubiquitous use and firm-deployment of tablets.

And most astonishing of all: the ipad (2012) matches the floating point performance of the Cray 2 supercomputer (1989). That's a gap of 23 short years. Also note the completely different slope seen on the right hand set of dots:


Source: Slideshow by Jack Dongarra and Piotr Luszczek, linked to by Michael Larabel.

This story has been going on for decades but it isn't finished yet. Just this year, my laptop got four cores, and I'm steadily shifting all my R programs to utilise parallel processing. For all X, it's interesting and useful to ask How would X change if computation, communications and storage got cheaper and better?. On this theme, you may like to read this post -- The new world of computers -- from earlier this year.

As an old timer, I always worry that we used to do Things That Mattered using the Cray 2 supercomputer, like forecast the weather or simulate nuclear explosions, whereas the bulk of the ipad's compute power is being deployed to watch cat videos on youtube. We have yet to re-imagine our world in terms of these new powers.

1 comment:

  1. I guess we will never re-imagine our existence in terms of this new compute power, because we never re-imagine our existence with respect to anything cheap and easily available. At one point, we used to use printing technology to print and disseminate important things like the Bible, and today printed flyers inserted into the morning newspaper are examples of the other extreme.

    I guess it's okay this way -- most people have no real perception of any Big and Important Problems impacting their lives anyway. Anyone who can afford to buy a tab or smartphone is already well above the basic subsistence challenges, and those who have those challenges will continue to suffer and die because the ones with the power live in a different universe. The more things change... etc?

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