High technology

Supercomputers for nuclear testing

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Jonar Nader reports on a US Government initiative to use supercomputers to test nuclear weapons. Would you be confident using a product that has been tested by a computer, and not tested in real life? To listen to an excerpt from the radio broadcast, please click on the green play button below.

Here is a transcript of the audio file.

Host: The US government has signed up four American computer manufacturers to work together to develop a super computer capable of operating at 100 terraflop, now what is 100 terraflop?

Jonar Nader: 100 trillion operations per second. So imagine what a million is, what a billion is, what a trillion is. It is 100 trillion operations in any one second. That could be very useful for weather pattern reporting, cyclone movement tracking, but guess what the US government wants to use that for!

Host: War!

Jonar Nader: In fact it is interesting you mention that because wartime used to be what spurred invention. Luckily, because the war stage has been a little bit better in the last few years, there hasn’t been the necessity for invention so the government has put together a 50 million dollar program encouraging companies (in fact only 4 companies: Digital, IBM, Sun micro systems and Crey research) to put together the path forward for the world’s fastest super computer by the year 2004, hoping that they could then use it to test bombs, because they have a treaty on not testing nuclear bombs so they want to do it electronically.

Host: So virtual nuclear testing, it’s safer than the other isn’t it. This is one of the arguments I recall the French used for their latest round of tests in the Pacific. They said they needed the data from these actual tests to be able to set up a system of computer virtual testing.

Jonar Nader: Well you see computer testing has saved companies millions and millions of dollars but it is a question of psychology. Would you fly an airplane that has never actually taken off the ground but has been perfectly tested on computer? That is a tough question. Would you actually launch a bomb if it has not been tested properly? Computerisation and computer testing can help you refine things but at the end of the day unless things are really tested what happens? That is why nuclear technology is what I call the only technology that stands supreme as the one that cannot yet be improved upon as quickly as every other technology. Take the mobile phone, within years it is so small- the size of a matchbox. Well nuclear technology should have been that advanced but unfortunately, or fortunately, due to lack of testing it has actually stifled. So the government is saying let’s not let it stifle let’s continue, so let’s encourage organisations to assist us. However, that is not to say that these four companies are in the business of war merchants. These 4 companies have signed on the understanding and agreement that they will retain the intellectual property of their computers, and that they will be able to commercialise their computers for everyday uses.

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