Use world’s fastest supercomputer’s features across wide range of fields

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Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer ranked No 1 in the world based on computation speed. US and Chinese manufacturers have been competing for supremacy in the supercomputer market. AFP

Supercomputers are playing an important role in fundamental science and companies’ research and development. It is hoped that Japan will maintain its competitiveness in this field to compete with the rest of the world and promote its industry.

The Fugaku supercomputer developed by Riken and Fujitsu Ltd ranked No 1 in the world based on computation speed. This good news comes eight and a half years after its predecessor, K, ranked as the world’s best in November 2011.

Fugaku’s computation speed reached nearly 40 times that of K’s and far ahead of the second place machine. There were fears that an outbreak of the novel coronavirus would delay its completion, but the development team worked until the last minute to make adjustments and completed it in time to be tested for the latest rankings. This is the result of their efforts.

When Japan’s domestic supercomputer Earth Simulator was ranked the world’s best in 2002, the US, a supercomputer powerhouse, was shocked and aimed to recover the position. Since then, however, China’s rise has been remarkable, as evidenced by it first winning the top spot in 2010 and other achievements. There was no denying that Japan was experiencing a decline in its research foundation.

The lesson from that time was that K was not easy to use because it had been designed with rankings in mind. Corporate use has not spread sufficiently.

Fugaku was therefore designed to be used with a wide range of software. It took first place not only in computation speed, which is the basis for the ranking, but in four categories overall, including artificial intelligence performance. The development attitude of aiming for a well-balanced system is commendable.

Fugaku’s operation will be in full swing in fiscal 2021 and is currently in the trial operation stage. Having said that, research has begun on measures to deal with infectious diseases by calculating how droplets from a person’s mouth scatter and predicting how high a protective partition should be.

A study has also been started to analyse the structure of the virus’ surface to find candidates for effective treatment. Research responding to society’s needs, such as forecasting weather and assessing safety in vehicle collisions, is important in making people aware of the significance of developing supercomputers.

US and Chinese manufacturers have been competing for supremacy in the supercomputer market. The Japanese government should take advantage of Fugaku’s first-place achievement to further enhance Japan’s industrial competitiveness.

Fujitsu has begun selling supercomputer products equipped with Fugaku’s central processing unit (CPU), which is the equivalent of the computer’s heart. This will be the first step toward the widespread use of excellent technologies.

New AI-based technologies are being created one after another, such as image recognition and automatic translation. Japan is noticeably lagging behind in these new fields.

The word “Fugaku” – another name for Mt Fuji – implies a lofty summit and wide base. The government must broaden the base for using supercomputers as a powerful piece of research infrastructure.