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Fugaku supercomputer tackles world’s biggest problems

TOKYO >> Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer — which in June ranked first on the global list of such machines — was born with an “application-first philosophy,” meaning that its exclusive purpose is to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, said Satoshi Matsuoka, the mastermind behind the project.

Its success is assessed “based on how much we can accelerate the applications that are important in society.”

As the director of Riken’s Center for Computational Science, Matsuoka, with his team, has set out areas for Fugaku to work on that are important to society, such as medicine, pharmacology, disaster prediction and prevention, environmental sustainability and energy.

Over the past year, the supercomputer has already been used for experimental trials related to the coronavirus and global weather simulations.

Matsuoka said researchers are trying to predict with precision, given the effect of carbon dioxide emissions, the future state of the climate. They are also working on carbon sequestration to trap carbon dioxide underground and reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

“This needs lots of simulation because we have to estimate the effect of long-term sequestration,” said Matsuoka. “How do we prevent that from escaping? What’s the best way of injecting CO2? Where do we inject CO2? Fugaku and other supercomputers are trying to solve these zero carbon problems in many ways.”

Fugaku was developed jointly over a decade by the state-backed Riken research institute and Fujitsu Ltd., at a cost of $1.85 billion. It won international acclaim for becoming the world’s first supercomputer to lead in four categories: raw computational speed, big data processing, deep learning with artificial intelligence and practical simulation calculations.

Fugaku conducted more than 442 quadrillion calculations per second during a benchmark test, which computes the machine’s raw speed. That’s nearly three times faster than the second-ranked Summit system, developed in the United States.

When Fugaku’s predecessor, the K computer, became operational in 2011, Matsuoka and a group of supercomputer researchers began to consider the successor to K. But it was political pressure that shaped the direction of Fugaku, shifting the priority from purely computational speed to improving the computer’s usability so that it could process various programming languages — just like any standard computer.

Another focus of the project was to achieve unprecedented power efficiency. Both issues were addressed with the creation of the Fujitsu A64FX microprocessor, which runs the same programs as smartphones and PCs — but with 20 times more power than its predecessor while being extremely energy efficient.

About 160,000 A64FX microprocessors are used in Fugaku, and the chip is also being used by the supercomputer manufacturer Cray Inc. (a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard), marking the first time that a Japanese supercomputer chip has been utilized by an American supercomputer manufacturer, Matsuoka said.

“Japan re-emerging as a formidable force in high-end semi- conductor (production) is something that we really wanted to achieve. And that’s taxpayers’ money well spent,” he said.

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