back to article US govt cuts squeeze crucial computer science, shoot country in foot

The US is shooting itself in the return-on-investment foot by tightening the screws on support for research on advanced computing systems. That was the message expressed loud and clear by a trio of HPC heavyweights during a "Retrospective on Supercomputing Technologies" session celebrating the 25th anniversary of the SC13 …

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computing the value of computing

The use of the analogy of flying to the progress in computing is a false analogy. It presupposes that the value of faster calculation is equivalent to moving objects faster through space. Computers have helped in tracking and determining an efficient way to move a greater volume of objects through space but that is a support function. Computers have also assisted in modeling how objects move through space in order to get better fuel efficiency. But that is in the past and past performance is not an indicator of future performance. The question is has the law of diminishing returns set in for supercomputing ?

Underlying all this is the presumption that the problems that need solving are technical problems which is hardly the case. The problems that need solving are human interaction problems. They are the problems of fear, mistrust, hatred, greed, suspicion, competition, repression. Our technology enhances the ability of some to leverage these impulses at the expense of others.

Enhanced computing power is not something that will result in benefits to all people. All technology is ultimately used in the service of exercising and projecting power.

Atomic research resulted in a host of other problems that we are still dealing with and despite the end of the cold war have not gone away. We are only beginning to see the issues that are side effects of all the computing research that has been done.

I am always skeptical when those whose livelihood and reason for being is dependent upon government funding run around telling us that the sky will fall if they don't get what they want.

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Re: computing the value of computing

Sure it's a false analogy, but you're dealing with retard congressmen here. You can't use words over two syllables with them.

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Re: computing the value of computing

"Enhanced computing power is not something that will result in benefits to all people."

You're absolutely right with this. I had to upvote you because you had none...and that to me is scary and odd.

I'm under the belief that people can just be too attached and rightfully passionate about something that it makes them temporarily blind to the wider scope.

BTW, spending on computing isn't drying out. The NSA might have a few words to say on computer spending, and I really don't want to know how much they have spent for how long.

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Re: computing the value of computing

Well, if that's the case, congressmen is way too long.

Try "dumbass".

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Re: computing the value of computing

Agree with pretty much all of that

Some points:

After the 2nd WW all the men like my dad came back with a changed view of society and were less likely to put up with the old ways cf. kicking Churchill out , and so the new frontier beckoned and the tech advances seen on and supporting the battlefield were understood and believed in by a critical mass of the populous and so science was 'a good thing'. Now, science is too difficult and so most of the populous are confused and sceptical, and there is no universal buy in

Part of the blame is to be laid at the feet of scientists themselves. How good are you/we/they are explaining *selves? I see things changing even to the extent of being a nerd is acceptable, but we do not do enough to explain the purpose of blue sky research or engineering advancement.

The analogies of travel to Narita we all know are flawed, but that is exactly the sort of stuff you need to explain whatever you are working on. You need a simple analogy to get your idea across in say 7 seconds, catch the imagination and then explain.

I have a bunch of these quick analogies - partly because my job involves explaining stuff at the highest levels of organisations I have simple explanations of what the company I work for does in many aspects. These are known as Elevator Pitches - ie can you explain the idea in the time it takes a lift to go 6 floors as you have your target trapped for that time. But also because from school onwards I was fed up of having the mickey extracted at parties when I said I was a mathematician - so I need a prepared comeback.

We need to be able to explain ourselves in the terms of the person we are talking to and not on ours

The reason my colleagues told me to log on here for shits and giggles was because of the Linux people, so totally incapable of explaining why they reckon Linus came after sliced bread.

As long as I have been on here I have not seen an explanation for Linux in the terms of a CxO world. It’s all in the terms 'I've not had to reboot in 4 years', 'distribution x with front end y is better than a with b'. OK, try getting that over in 30 seconds and why someone would spend significant bunce and effort changing?

This is just one example, but we need to be able make our pitch anytime, anywhere, just like David Icke

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Anonymous Coward

Re: computing the value of computing

"...we need to be able make our pitch anytime, anywhere, just like David Icke..."

No. Just no. We do not "need" to do anything just like David Icke.

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Re: computing the value of computing

Another way of looking at it.

When HPC was dependant on government you simply wrote a bigger check to Cray each year and 5years later got a new Cray twice as powerfull as the old one.

When the DoE/DoD stopped writing blank checks to Cray we got a massive increase in innovation in clusters/GPU/FPGA etc

.

So we should thank Holywood and players of GTA for any new improvements.

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Re: computing the value of computing

"No. Just no. We do not "need" to do anything just like David Icke."

Irony bypass, much?

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@ Getriebe

You're going to need to work on that elevator speech.

I'm pretty sure I've spent more than 6 floors worth of time analyzing your text, and I still have no idea what your point was let alone whether or not I agree with it.

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Science will suffer

People seem to care less about science (UK here) but I cant entirely blame them. Science made promises of a bright future of moon landings and flying cars. It didnt deliver on all the promises but it delivered enough to make people proud. Even CERN and the hunt for the higgs was positive. The scientists were educated people with experience and vision.

Compare that to now. We have any old hack called a scientists even if they are peddling the known snake oils. Modern science seems to be about ramping up our energy bills while claiming MMCC co2 theory is the only explanation which is completely true (but the proof doesnt arrive as predicted). The idiots peddling wind and solar while knowing they are not practical grid technologies (they do have their uses, but not on the grid) do it in the name of science. We have claims from 'scientists' which sound like (and turn out to be) lies and religious sounding junk. They develop electric cars while enforcing the cost of electricity shoots up insanely.

The public face of science has moved from happy, bright and intelligent to dumb, lying, incompetent. This is what the public sees pushed as current science (with little bits of positive research scattered thin in-between, eg phage). For science to be funded correctly (computers is under that umbrella) the public must be behind it. To do this we need respectable science and scientists stating truths and holding a high standard reputation. Bring back the bright future of possibility

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Linux

Re: Science will suffer

Science suffers when the truth cannot be heard. By this I mean, we have a media obsessed by trivia, politicians obsessed by achieving the appearance of acting, and companies obsessed by the pursuit of profit at all costs.

The talk by the David Keyes (who i have met a few times and has a fine singing voice...;-) repeats an observation of a number of scientists in the US, although the analysis could be applied equally to any country.

Basically everything you think of a science in the USA comes from this tiny fraction of the federal budget. NIH, NSF, DOE , FDA, NASA, NOA.... EVERYTHING. Computing only benefits the world because there are applications that are written using algorithms developed by scientists and engineers towards the solution of scientific problems.

The problem with politics is the need to be seen to be doing something - i.e. picking winners (the spin is the obvious counterpart picking losers). Companies all want something for nothing. Hence, politicians spend more on entitlements , lobbyists get tax breaks for business, and less money is spent on funding creative activities. Putting a man on the moon? Sequencing the human genome? Anti-cancer therapies? Smart phones as powerful as the supercomputers of old running on a battery?

None of these are isolated activities they all require the blending of many, many iterations of scientific publication and engineering implementation. If you want to reap the benefits of science and technology you need to support the people involved in it. And that is not just in education but in the government agencies that (should) implement policies on behalf of all the people, and build the intellectual capital which permits a varied industry and supports a sustainable future.

The NIH doubled its budget in a decade and has had an enormous effect on creating new industries where there one (e.g. therapeutic genome sequencing, genotyping etc.., personalised medicine ). What could we achieve with a doubling of NSF?

I understand the frustration with the climate change fiasco, but this only goes to underscore my point. The real world is far more complex than the 19th century principles our society has modelled itself on. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water! The vast majority of science is independently verifiable and we all benefit as a result.

Computers are an astonishing technology, but without continued investment it will never reach its full potential.

P.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Science will suffer

If el Reg allowed a weekly +10 upvote, you'd get mine on this. Very well said on all counts.

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JLV
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Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

Like in pretty much any advanced Western economy.

Start by trimming farm support, especially the kind that is volume-based and where the biggest farming concerns get the most money, not the romanticized mom & pop farms.

Trouble is, rural voters are exactly the kinda salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense, independent-of-Washington, folks that are the bulk of the Tea Party balance-the-budget-at-all-cost cohorts.

So, their pork's the last spot you can expect Federal subsidies to be trimmed.

Just like Sarah Palin proudly represented Alaska, a state where Federal & State largesse cuts every resident a nice big fat check every year.

Or just like the US is still pushing corn-based Ethanol as a bio-fuel, because it allows congressmen to deliver pork to their constituents, not because of any value whatsoever in climate change mitigation.

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Coat

Re: Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

Ah, democracy!

So, I'm just back from the pub, so take this how you like.

In the court system, it's enshrined that you're judged by a jury of your peers. The jury is selected at random through jury duty.

Here's the idea. Why not, instead of electing politicians, select them at random? A government selected in the same way a jury is.

Don't think why it won't work, make suggestions as to how it could work! Now, where's that whiskey bottle?

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Re: Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

@Symon

select them at random?

Well, it's a novel idea;- and you've have to be 'selecting' in some pretty dubious places to end up with anything as hopeless as the shower we've got!

Before anyone accuses me of tribalism, let me say I have an equal view of ALL political parties, and it is one of utter contempt for all of them in their present form.

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Re: Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

This is called sortition. It's not a new idea - it's been proposed since Ancient Greek times.

Would it work? Up to a point. The problem is you would need a helper and teacher class to get your 'jurists' up to speed on procedure and context.

And that class would have a lot of unelected power.

It also relies on an honest, spin-free, non-lying media. And we know how likely that is.

But... the one thing that would make a huge difference is creating a new criminal offence of wilfully and knowingly misleading the public. That would put pols, media barons, spin-meisters, corporate communications whores and plain old advertisers on notice, and do a lot to clean up and improve practical democracy.

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Re: Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

human leaders will not exist for much longer soon it will be all robots and no compassion.

they will replace the TSA with probing robots that are more brutal than any alien movie.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Aww, US budget cuts could be simple ;-)

"Here's the idea. Why not, instead of electing politicians, select them at random? A government selected in the same way a jury is".

Good thinking, Symon! Clearly the pub facilitates intelligent creativity. Instead of actively selecting for the worst elements of humanity, we would get a random sample - it would have to be an improvement.

Besides, it's a Philip K Dick idea (see his "World of Chance" for an interesting and entertaining scenario).

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Re: instead of electing politicians, select them at random?

If it were truly at random for a limited time I might be willing to risk it.

But if we look at your example of the mythical trial by jury of your peers and see how it is actually executed, I think not. In such real life instances the first people who are excluded are any people who might have read about the case. In other words, informed people who care about what is happening in the world and how it might impact them and/or their neighbors. To me, exactly the sort of people you would want on a jury. Next up anyone who knows lawyers on either side of the case. That one might be reasonable, but it definitely makes it non-random. Then they exclude anyone who might have specialized knowledge about anything relevant to the case. Then they take exceptions for hardships or too vital to the community like doctors. What you are left with is small set of clueless people. If we wind up with similar filters for politicians, difficult as it might be to believe, I think it would actually be worse than it is now.

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Why buy when you can rent?

Amazon throws together 26,496 cores, and gets ranked as #64 in the Top 500. Cycle Computing rented 156,314 cores for $33,000 and got a petaflop for 18 hours. Now, isn't that more effective than mandating the government has to fund everything?

Face up to it, web searches and cat videos will drive advances in computing, not the weather.

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Re: Why buy when you can rent?

"Face up to it, web searches and cat videos will drive advances in computing, not the weather."

And do not forget the fagility that is man - porn - which pretty well what got the Internet going 12 years ago.

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Anonymous Coward

There's always plenty of money to develop missiles and robot fighting machines though sadly.

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Unhappy

It's the old "dedicated" versus "general purpose" argument.

Remember why people bought mini computers, then micro computers?

Availability

My cycles driving My terminal with My bandwidth on My schedule.

Now it looks like Amazon, MS etc can sell you truly huge chunks of processing power, but I wonder for the real cutting edge stuff is it big enough.

Thing is though people don't seem to understand that short term should be handled by industry it's the long to medium term that's a problem.

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Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

The sad fact is that the U.S. government needs to cut costs somewhere. Unfortunately, the el Reg commentariat sounds a lot like interest groups everywhere else. There's lots of complaining here that advanced computing, space exploration and medical science are all being cut, but very few answers on where these cuts should be offset if not in areas of research.

Realistically, you can't expect budget increases at a time when the federal deficit is still something like $600B-$700B per year, and taxes were just increased across the board 11 months ago. Plus the Affordable Care Act taxes are now just kicking in as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

Foreign aid would be a great start in terms of budget cuts.

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JLV
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>Foreign aid would be a great start

Let's take an interesting lil snippet of how useless foreign aid can be...

The US funded the Afghanistan resistance from 80-89. Cheaply at first (starting w Lee Enfield WWI rifles, acquired 2nd hand, untracelable to CIA involvement). Ending with hundreds of millions of dollars of aid & Stingers. Russkies got kicked out, 89.

90? collapse of US aid, which went from Defense/CIA to State Dept (foreign aid). It just wasn't acceptable to the taxpayer to fund reconstruction for 50M$, though rebel-arming was A-OK at 10x the cost.

90-95? Gradual collapse of Afghanistan government. Warlords. Siege of Kabul.

95? Talibans scholar-warriors from Pakistan are welcomed by the general Afghan population.

How much have we spent there since? Just because we couldn't be arsed to support the peace for people who were major contributors to collapsing the USSR?

So, foreign aid as first victim, _all_ the time? Easy soundbite. The numbers are not that high anyway, not difficult to check if you can be bothered. Esp not if you take into account funding that is tied to be spent on the donor country's own goods & services.

Doesn't mean there aren't tons of stupid aid programs that dont work spent on folks & countries that don't deserve it. Just spend the money on the ones that do.

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Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

They should take the 90% of wealth that the top 1% have and simply delete it. Remove their currency from the system entirely so the value of everyone else's currency can finally increase.

A few thousand billion of worthless paper money would disappear from the system overnight and only the 100 richest people in america would be affected. Maybe we can set up a soup kitchen for them, because we all know, having soup kitchens magically makes it ok for people to be impoverished.

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Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

Unfortunately, the el Reg commentariat sounds a lot like interest groups everywhere else.

It is advancing the gravy train.

If Obama has spent $10 billion over 4 years on climate modelling and they couldn't find the missing heat, and couldn't explain the pause.

Time for new scientists. The planet will be OK.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

They should take the 90% of wealth that the top 1% have and simply delete it.

Yes! Let's try Communism!

It is hasty to conclude it hasn't worked. So let's give it another try.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

Research has the potential for huge savings down the road, and IMO that's why it is worth funding.

As long as researchers don't get a sense of entitlement ("it's _my_ money")...

There's a double benefit to research, not only is commercialisable technology produced but also people move from research and academia to commercial roles, and in this way research (and high-tech defence projects) seed industry with skilled technologists.

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Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

That's not communism. For the 100 richest people its a bummer but everyone else will do well and those rich people will die and in 50 years no one will care about them.

just think of it as correcting the system.

these rich people only got where they are by not paying taxes and firing workers. What have they done to stop communism? nothing! they're allowing the welfare state to pick up the slack when their tiny pay checks leave the majority of families either starving or freezing to death.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

What happens when that worked and they go with, the next 100 and then the next 1,000 and so on. Eventually they call your number as you are now one of the richest.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: >Foreign aid would be a great start

Pakistan gets close to $1 billion; imagine what that would do for research funding? Egypt is $1.3 billion. All total foreign aid is $42.1 billion.

Foreign aid escaped major cuts for the 2012 budget year. $42.1 billion is not that high?

"FEMA's disaster relief fund had $792 million remaining in it just prior to the hurricane's landfall in August 2011, which was below the $1 billion threshold that caused FEMA to act under "immediate-needs status," delaying long-term projects in favor of urgent tasks."

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Re: Budget cuts have to come from somewhere....

@AC 18:01 GMT Sunday

I don't disagree, but EVERYONE says that their program has follow on benefits:

More money/less cuts for education-more skilled workers and less need for social services in out years

More money/fewer cuts in defense-commercialization of military tech advances over time (its how silicon valley was originally underwritten)

More money for unemployment insurance-more spending/jobs in retail/logistics/manufacturing

More money for healthcare-underwrites employment and technology development in healthcare

And so on. In the meantime the national debt keeps piling up. The u.s. 10 year bond already has a 1% interest premium over German bonds, even though the u.s. has its own currency and active quantitative easing in place, which Germany doesn't.

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Re: >Foreign aid would be a great start

It not the foreign aid per se. It is the general stupidity that accompanies it.

I'm a good Yankee trader. When I spend foreign aid dollars to buy support from foreign governments, I expect them to be bought, and stay bought. The twits running most of the programs have no such aspirations. They just hand it out think they are Santa Clause and that doing so will make us popular. We throw good money at lost causes.

Frankly, the US spends a lot on foreign aid. A hell of a lot more than we get credit for. We just don't do it through government. We do it through private charities and church groups that help private citizens. This builds the small community on which the larger community can than be based.

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Re: As long as researchers don't get a sense of entitlement

But that's precisely the problem. It does read more like entitlement than thoughtful spending. And where it starts to read like entitlement, what you have are snouts at the trough instead of real, useful, theoretical research.

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Re: $42.1 billion is not that high?

When asked what percentage most Americans think should be spent on foreign aid, they answer in the 3-5% range. They don't realize that $42.1 billion doesn't work out to anywhere near that percentage.

The problem of course is that 60-70% of the US federal budget is now tied up in sacrosanct entitlements. It is simply unsustainable. Just like it is in China. Just like it was in the Soviet Union. And just like it was almost 400 years ago at the Massachusettes Bay Colony.

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irrelevant

when the manufacturing base has been offshored anyway

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Anonymous Coward

A modest proposal

If the US government wishes to save some money so that it can continue investing in research (and health and education and maintaining its roads, bridges, pipes, and other vital infrastructure) perhaps it might consider killing fewer people abroad?

Killing foreigners (at least, in the American way) is a very expensive activity, and what's more it's probably counter-productive. There are so many foreigners that it's hardly realistic to kill all of them; and if you only kill some of them, their friends and relatives tend to get all hostile and riled up about it.

As far as I can ascertain, the formal armed forces budget of the USA is currently about two-thirds of a trillion dollars per year. Once you add in incidentals such as the hundreds of "security agencies" and the huge costs of caring for tens of thousands of maimed and shocked veterans, the total climbs rapidly towards a round trillion.

Now a trillion dollars certainly isn't what it was. ("A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking real money..." - especially if you're a bankster). But it is a start. With $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation you could accomplish a fair amount. Even half of that would solve a lot of problems. And halving the USA's military spending would just mean that it falls from about half of the entire world's to maybe one-third - not quite equivalent to full-out pacifism. Besides, the Chinese are already paying for most of it, and they probably won't continue to be quite so generous indefinitely.

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I said this during the shutdown. Nothing has changed.

http://www.infostor.com/index/blogs_new/Henry-Newman-Blog/blogs/infostor/Henry-Newman-Blog/post987_165982510.html

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When you have fools voting in complete morons who think the world is flat and that its their duty to cause the Rapture (About 30% of the US population) - we're going to have problems.

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@Belardi

Nice theory, except that the Senate (which has a equal say in setting these budgets) and the White House are controlled by non-Rapture enabling Democrats.

What else do you have?

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