China, technology superpower

The US media have been buzzing today about China having created the world’s most powerful supercomputer, which takes up a third of an acre. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t stir up yet another wave of panic that China is emerging as a threat.

A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower.

The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.

Although the official list of the top 500 fastest machines, which comes out every six months, is not due to be completed by Mr. Dongarra until next week, he said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine.” He added, “We don’t close the books until Nov. 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster.”

We all know the dichotomies, that China is now a technology superpower while also being largely impoverished and, some big cities aside, a third-world country. But this does help put to rest the notion that all China can produce are shoes and toys you buy at WalMart. (And I promise, I know some people who still view China that way.)

So once again China successfully invests a huge amount of money and effort to become No. 1, at least for the moment. They have to be given credit for achieving this, and from all I heard on National Public Radio tonight, this is a truly dramatic achievement, one that must be taken seriously. Now we just have to see what they do with it, and whether they can hold onto their No. 1 spot. No matter what, this was a PR coup and a big boost to China’s ego.