“Mimicking a human brain” – Chinese supercomputer, fourth most powerful in the world, achieves major breakthrough in AI?

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In the latest spate of claims and counterclaims, Chinese scientists recently claimed to have run an artificial intelligence program with an architecture as complicated as the human brain.

The AI ​​model, nicknamed “BaGuaLu” or “Alchemist’s Pot”, ran on the latest generation of the Sunway supercomputer at the National Supercomputing Center.

The report, citing Chinese scientists, says the 174 trillion parameter AI model could be used for various applications ranging from autonomous vehicles to scientific studies.

The data was presented in April during a virtual meeting of Principles and Practice of Parallel Programming 2022, an international conference being held by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in the United States.

The result puts Sunway’s latest-generation supercomputer on par with Frontier, the latest machine developed by the US Department of Energy.

The Sunway TaihuLight is the fourth most powerful supercomputer in the world. Still, the researchers claim the latest demonstration puts them on par with the US border, which tops the list.

China’s Sunway TaihuLight is among the world’s most powerful supercomputers as of June 22, 2022 (Science China Press)

A list of the top 500 supercomputers named Sunway the most powerful machine between 2016 and 2018. Chinese institutions no longer provide performance data for the list. The top 500 ranking also includes 173 supercomputers from China.

The report adds that the Sunway supercomputer has more than 37 million CPU cores, four times that of the US-based Frontier supercomputer. In addition, the system has nine petabytes of storage, which is equivalent to more than 2 million HD movies.

One researcher claimed that the latest Sunway’s performance allowed it to perform parallel computations in a way similar to human thinking, describing it as “like eating while watching TV”.

The scientists claimed to have achieved “decent performance” with the unprecedented “brain-scale” AI model, bringing together essential technologies such as hardware-specific intra-node optimization and hybrid parallel methods on a scale never seen before.

According to publicly available information, the new device, like its predecessor, uses proprietary processors with unique power-saving and extensive communication bandwidth capabilities.

China's supercomputer AI
Image for representation

China’s progress in the supercomputer arena

Since 2016, China has been building three exascale supercomputers, each capable of processing at least one exaflop of calculations per second. The general assumption is that these computers will perform at a level comparable to the new Sunway.

Exascale supercomputers are the next generation of supercomputers, enabling scientists to more accurately and rapidly simulate the intricate processes involved in managing inventory, medicine, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, energy, materials design, and the physics of the universe.

Zhejiang Lab in Hangzhou, a Sunway adopter, said in November that the new machine had reached a speed of 4.4 exaflops. However, it did not provide any additional information.

Chinese supercomputers were once considered vanity projects of little use in business or academia. On the other hand, scientists using these tools argue that the situation has changed radically.

Oakridge machine. Photo: Flickr/OLCF at ORNL

Researchers used the latest generation Tianhe supercomputer – another exascale machine – at Tianjin’s National Supercomputing Center for rapid screening and identification of drugs to fight the coronavirus.

In recent years, Chinese programs modeling atmospheric dynamics, earthquakes and quantum circuits have also won the ACM’s Gordon Bell Prize, known as the Nobel Prize for high-performance computing.

Jack Dongarra, a US supercomputing expert, said The Financial Times: “The buildup of China’s supercomputing program, dating back more than two decades, has resulted in an ‘amazing situation’ in which the country is now leading the world.”

Do you rely on domestic technology?

Some industry experts believe the Chinese government could withhold critical facts about its supercomputers to prevent the US from imposing unilateral penalties.

In 2019, the US announced targeted bans against five Chinese supercomputing organizations. A year later, further sanctions against seven other organizations followed. The second wave was rolled out a month after China’s first exascale system was activated.

The technology used in an earlier Chinese attempt to break the exascale barrier came from US chipmaker AMD, making it more vulnerable to US trade restrictions. The two exascale systems currently being developed by China, on the other hand, are now based on self-developed chip designs.

China currently has more supercomputers in the Top500 list than the United States. To According to Horst Simon, former deputy director of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the country with the most advanced supercomputers has a clear defense advantage over its competitors.

For years, China has been developing a domestic supercomputing sector. The advent of the exascale computing age may present an opportunity to gain a more accurate edge.

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