This column is an opinion by Kris Rowe, a computational scientist working to get science and engineering applications ready for the next generation of exascale supercomputers. Born and educated in Canada, he has worked at major Canadian and American Universities, as well as two U.S. national laboratories. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
Some of the brightest minds from around the globe have been quietly working on technology that promises to turn the world on its head, but so far Canada has been watching from the sidelines.
While it is unlikely that people will be huddled around their televisions to watch the power to these incredible machines being switched on, the scientific discoveries that follow the debut of exascale computers will change our daily lives in unimaginable ways.
So what exactly is an exascale computer?
It’s a supercomputer capable of performing more than a billion billion calculations per second — or 1 exaflops.
“Exa” is the metric system prefix for such grandiose numbers, and “flops” is an abbreviation of “floating-point operations per second.”
For comparison, my laptop computer is capable of about 124 gigaflops, or 124 billion calculations per second, which sounds fast.
However, Summit is a mere welterweight relative to an exascale supercomputer, which is more than 60 times faster.
To put that speed in perspective, if you took all the calculations a modern laptop can perform in a single second, and instead did the arithmetic non-stop with pencil and paper at a rate of one calculation per second, it would take roughly 3,932 years to finish.
In a single second, a supercomputer capable of 1 exaflops could do a series of calculations that would take about 31.7 billion years by hand.
While colloquially a supercomputer is referred to as a single entity, it is actually composed of thousands of servers — or compute nodes — connected by a dedicated high-speed network.
You might assume that an exascale supercomputer could be built simply by using 60 times more compute nodes than today’s fastest supercomputer; however, the cost, power consumption, and other constraints make this approach nearly impossible.
Fortunately, computer scientists have an ace up their sleeves, known as a GPU accelerator.
Graphics processing units (GPUs) are the professional-grade cousins of the graphics card in your personal computer and are capable of performing arithmetic at a rate of several teraflops (ie. really, really fast). And a feasible route to exascale can be realized by not only making supercomputers larger but also denser.
Sporting six extremely powerful GPUs per compute node, Argonne National Laboratory’s Aurora will follow this approach. Scheduled to come online in 2021, Aurora will be the first exascale supercomputer in North America — although the title of first in the world may go to China’s Tianhe-3, which is slated to power up sometime in 2020.
Several other machines in the U.S., China, Europe and Japan are scheduled to be brought to life soon after Aurora, using similar architectures
What exactly does one do with all that computing power? Change the world, of course.
Exascale supercomputers will allow researchers to tackle problems which were impossible to simulate using the previous generation of machines, due to the massive amounts of data and calculations involved.
Small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) design, wind farm optimization and cancer drug discovery are just a few of the applications that are priorities of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Exascale Computing Project. The outcomes of this project will have a broad impact and promise to fundamentally change society, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Exascale and Canada
So why isn’t Canada building one?
One reason is that exascale supercomputers come with a pretty steep sticker price. The contracts for the American machines are worth more than $500 million US each. On the other side of the Atlantic, the EU signed off on €1 billion for their own exascale supercomputer.
While the U.S. and Europe have much larger populations, the annual per capita spending on large-scale computing projects demonstrates how much Canada is lagging in terms of investment. The U.S. DOE alone will spend close to $1 billion US on its national supercomputing facilities next year, a number which does not take into account spending by other federal organizations, such as the U.S. National Science Foundation.
In comparison, Compute Canada — the national advanced research computing consortium providing supercomputing infrastructure to Canadian researchers — has a budget that is closer to $114 million Cdn.
In its 2018 budget submission, Compute Canada clearly lays out what it will take to bring our country closer to the forefront of supercomputing on the world stage. Included is the need for increasing the annual national spending on advanced research computing infrastructure to an estimated $151 million — a 32 per cent increase from where it is now. Given cost of the American exascale supercomputers, this is likely a conservative estimate.
However, the need for an exascale supercomputer in Canada does not seem to be on the radar of the decision-makers in the federal and provincial governments.
Hanlon’s razor would suggest that this is not due to some sinister plot by politicians to punish the nation’s computer geeks; rather, our politicians likely don’t fully understand the benefits of investing in the technology.
For example, the recent announcement by the premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to collaborate on aggressively developing Canada’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology failed to mention the need for advanced computing resources. In contrast, corresponding U.S. DOE projects explicitly state that they will require exascale computing resources to meet their objectives.
Why should the Canadian government — and you — care?
For the less altruistic, a benefit of supercomputing research is “trickle-down electronics.” The quiet but persistent legacy of the space race is technology like the microwave oven found in most kitchens. Similarly, the technological advances necessary to achieve exascale computing will also lead to lower-cost and more energy-efficient laptops, improved high-definition computer graphics, and prevalent AI in our connected devices.
But more importantly for Canada, how we invest our federal dollars says a lot about what we value as a nation.
It’s a statement about how we value the sciences. Do we want to attract world-class researchers to our universities? Do we want Canada to be a leader in climate research, renewable energy and medical advances?
It’s also a statement about how much we value Canadian businesses and innovation.
The user-facility model of the U.S. DOE provides businesses with access to singular resources, which gives American companies a competitive advantage in the world marketplace. Compute Canada has a similar mandate, and given the large number of startup companies and emerging industries in Canada, we leave our economy on an unequal footing without significant investments in advanced computing infrastructure.
Ultimately, supercomputers are apolitical: they can just as easily be used for oil exploration as wind farming. Their benefits can be applied across the economy and throughout society to develop new products and solve problems.
At a time when Canada seems so divided, building an exascale computer is the kind of project we need to bring the country together.
[Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy or the U.S. government.]
- This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.
Cranbrook, B.C. seniors frustrated after Canada Posts stops delivering mail to care home – Global News
Residents of a Cranbrook, B.C. seniors’ home say they’re frustrated by delays receiving their mail due to what may be one or more unvaccinated Canada Post workers.
On Oct. 25, residents of Joseph Creek Village, a home operated by Golden Life Management, received a letter stating the lack of delivery is “based on the PHO mandate of all visitors being vaccinated.”
It’s been two weeks since resident Gus Meshwa received a letter and he said he’s “not very happy.”
“All of a sudden they want to cut it off,” he said, adding that he’s not sure why the mail stopped coming.
“We’re trying to fight it a little bit in order to get service back … It’s very inconvenient.”
According to the Oct. 25 letter shared with Global News, Golden Life Management has tried working with Canada Post to resolve the delays, “but Canada Post has been unwilling to make compromises or work with GLM Management Team to find an appropriate solution.”
The letter says Canada Post has informed Golden Life that it will not be delivering mail Joseph Creek Village, but residents can pick up their mail at the local post office, or fill out a form so someone else can do it on their behalf.
It’s problem for residents like Meshwa, who uses a wheelchair, and said “family can’t always come and help when you need them.”
Impact of COVID-19 on long-term care homes in B.C.
Golden Life has now involved the local member of Parliament in the stalemate, according to a statement to Global News.
“Canada Post has declined to deliver mail to various locations as they are unable to meet the Provincial Health Order,” wrote company vice-president Celeste Mullin.
“Golden Life is working with our local MP and Canada Post to find a solution that ensures residents of Long Term Care and Assisted Living continue receiving postal services.”
In its own statement, Canada Post did not address claims about an unvaccinated postal worker.
“We have looked into this situation and can confirm that we are in contact with our customer to resolve this issue and have offered them an alternate temporary solution for them to receive their mail,” wrote spokesperson Nicole Lecompte.
“We continue to look for a permanent solution for mail delivery. We apologize to our customer and thank them for their understanding as we work to resolve this matter during these difficult times.”
B.C. government criticized for pace of COVID-19 booster shots for seniors
Ninety-year-old resident Evelyn Roussy said she’s frustrated by the lack of service.
“I’d like to see the delivery restored. The post office boxes are here. They’re just sitting there idle. Why were they installed in the first place if they weren’t going to use them?” she asked.
“That’s all we want, is our mail delivery.”
Ida Aitzetmueller called it “just awful.”
“Whatever happened to rain, sleet or snow, the mail comes through?” she wondered.
“We are all over 80 and 90, and now the winter is coming, and we should go to the main office to pick up our mail? It’s just unreal.”
Canada Post’s main office in Cranbrook is about three kilometres from Joseph Creek Village.
Aitzetmueller said it’s Canada Post’s job, and Golden Life Management’s job to work out a solution that doesn’t place the onus to pick up on residents and their families.
“They should have a heart. Now we are old in wheelchairs and walkers and they expect us to go there? It’s just not right.”
She’s worried about how “upsetting” it will be for residents if they don’t receive any Christmas cards.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Biden likely to head to COP26 without a final U.S. climate deal
President Joe Biden is expected to head to Europe without an agreement on measures to combat climate change as chances dimmed that deeply divided Democrats in Congress would agree on Wednesday on a broader spending deal.
Biden is expected to leave on Thursday for a meeting of G20 leaders in Rome and then the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The Glasgow conference was expected to be a showcase for Biden to demonstrate U.S. efforts to tackle climate change and ask other countries to adopt similar measures.
The U.S. president was likely to delay his departure to Europe by a few hours as he was expected to attend the House Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday morning, CNN and NBC News reported late on Wednesday, in what would likely be an attempt to secure the backing of progressive lawmakers for his agenda.
Biden’s $1.5 trillion-$2 trillion spending plan aimed at curbing climate change and expanding the social safety net remained mired in intraparty squabbles on Wednesday, as did a linked $1 trillion infrastructure bill that also includes climate-related measures.
Time has simply run out for anything to be finalized before Biden leaves, a key Democrat indicated.
“I think a framework deal is likely in the next 24 to 36 hours,” House of Representatives Democratic Conference Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters after a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Others agreed it seemed unlikely there would be an agreement on Wednesday, and suggested fundamental issues, like how to pay for it, remain.
“I don’t know,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. “But I don’t think so. I’m not quite clear in terms of the revenue package. Every sensible revenue option seems to be destroyed.”
The White House sought earlier on Wednesday to portray it as still “realistic” that Biden’s signature spending plan could get congressional support by Thursday, but conceded that he might need to depart for Europe without a final deal in hand.
“Of course he would like to head on this trip with a deal,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She added, however, that world leaders are “looking at the president’s commitment” on infrastructure and climate, not what is being passed in Congress.
“They’re seeing we’re on the verge of making a deal,” she said.
Biden would need to sign any passed bill into law. He would not push back his trip substantially to advocate for it further, Psaki said earlier on Wednesday.
“There’s some flexibility in the morning, but I’m not going to suggest he’s going to delay his trip.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)
Taiwan president confirms U.S. troops training soldiers on island – CNN
A small number of U.S. forces are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN, confirming the presence of U.S. troops on the self-governing island that China considers its own.
Tensions between Taiwan and China, which has not ruled out taking the island by force, have escalated in recent weeks as Beijing raises military and political pressure.
“We have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defence capability,” Tsai told CNN in the interview aired on Thursday.
Asked how many U.S. service members are deployed in Taiwan, she said only that it was “not as many as people thought”.
The confirmation comes as China is sharply increasing military pressure on Taiwan, including repeated missions by Chinese warplanes in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
While several Taiwan and international media outlets including Reuters have previously reported such training with U.S. troops, official confirmation could further aggravate U.S.-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out muscular military exercises near Taiwan.
Asked about Tsai’s comment, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters Taiwan-U.S. military interactions were “quite a lot and quite frequent” and had been going on for a long time.
“During these exchanges, any topic can be discussed,” he said.
However he added that Tsai did not say that U.S. forces are permanently based, or garrisoned, in Taiwan, in response to lawmaker questions that if they were then this could be a pretext for China to attack the island.
“There is no connection between personnel exchanges and the stationing of troops,” Chiu said.
The United States withdrew its permanently based forces in Taiwan when it severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan does though send its F-16 pilots to be trained in the United States, at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international ally and main arms supplier.
Tsai has said Taiwan is an independent country and repeatedly vowed to defend its democracy and freedom.
Asked about reports on the U.S. troops in Taiwan, Chinese foreign ministry said earlier this month that the United States should cease military ties and arms sales to Taiwan to avoid damaging bilateral relations.
(Reporting By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by William Mallard)
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