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Supercomputers take over the world

Supercomputers take over the world

By Zeid Nasser

ON THE eve of the turn of the century, it seems that the prophecies of science fiction books and films may come true, due to IBM's plans to build the biggest, fastest and 'most intelligent' supercomputer ever.

"A powerful computer, incorporating high levels of artificial intelligence, is built by man, but it gets out of control and takes over computer systems all over the world and ends human life as we know it on this planet by causing wars and catastrophes. The few humans that remain, become slaves to the new society of computers and machines.

If only man knew it would end like this, someone would have stopped the 'supercomputer project'".

Such is the scenario, and it may well become true one day. For now, here's what the new computer, called 'Blue Gene' will be capable of.

It will be 1000 times more powerful than its predecessor 'Deep Blue', IBM's last supercomputer which beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. It will also be 500 times faster than today's supercomputers and about 2 million times more powerful than today's top desktop PCs.

The press release from IBM stated that Blue Gene would be used "to model the folding of human proteins. Learning more about how proteins fold is expected to give medical researchers better understanding of diseases, as well as potential cures. If this computer unlocks the mystery of how proteins fold, it will be an important milestone in the future of medicine and healthcare."

Although it all sounds honorable, one has to wonder about the dangers of increased dependency on computers and the massive increases in computer powers and artificial intelligence.

Just look at the Y2K bug, it is a classic example of how much computers have permeated our lives, and the dangers associated with that. Pessimistic people think that airplanes will fall out of the sky, nuclear weapons will be accidentally launched and hospital systems will go wild endangering patients all over the world! Of course, we all know that this won't happen, but that's because we realized there was a problem and sought to correct it. However, the Y2K two-digit problem was man-made, which provides evidence that humans have the potential to destroy their future with their own creations.

IBM Research believes a radical new approach to computer design and architecture will allow Blue Gene to achieve petaflop-scale performance in about five years- that's three trillion operations a second!

All this computing power is bound to be used for something harmful, eventually. That is the fear. If computers run the complex weapon systems of countries, there's a chance a glitch in one of the so-called supercomputers could start World War III, or even worse, the computer may intentionally carry out a function that harms humanity based on its 'three-trillion operations a second' brain which is telling it to annihilate humanity!

For now, its seems like supercomputers like Blue Gene will help human causes. A scientist commented on Blue Gene's capabilities saying that, "One day, you're going to be able to walk into a doctor's office and have a computer analyze a tissue sample, identify the pathogen that ails you, and then instantly prescribe a treatment best suited to your specific illness and individual genetic makeup."

Well, that sounds honorable.

Although the fears that supercomputers may take over the world seem somewhat far-fetched, it's not completely impossible. It is important to make sure that super computing power of this magnitude doesn't fall into the wrong hands! n

-- scott (, March 15, 2000

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