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Could Supercomputers With Non-Von Neumann Architectures Reach "Zettascale" and "Yottascale"?

Accepted submission by takyon at 2018-07-11 12:49:52

In an interview posted just before the release of the latest TOP500 [] list, high performance computing expert Dr. Thomas Sterling [] (one of the two builders of the original "Beowulf cluster") had this to say [] about the possibility of reaching "zettascale" [] (beyond 1,000 exaflops):

I'll close here by mentioning two other possibilities that, while not widely considered currently, are nonetheless worthy of research. The first is superconducting supercomputing and the second is non-von Neumann architectures. Interestingly, the two at least in some forms can serve each other making both viable and highly competitive with respect to future post-exascale computing designs. Niobium Josephson Junction-based technologies cooled to four Kelvins can operate beyond 100 and 200 GHz and has slowly evolved over two or more decades. When once such cold temperatures were considered a show stopper, now quantum computing – or at least quantum annealing – typically is performed at 40 milli-Kelvins or lower, where four Kelvins would appear like a balmy day on the beach. But latencies measured in cycles grow proportionally with clock rate and superconducting supercomputing must take a very distinct form from typical von Neumann cores; this is a controversial view, by the way.

Possible alternative non-von Neumann architectures that would address this challenge are cellular automata and data flow, both with their own problems, of course – nothing is easy. I introduce this thought not to necessarily advocate for a pet project – it is a pet project of mine – but to suggest that the view of the future possibilities as we enter the post-exascale era is a wide and exciting field at a time where we may cross a singularity before relaxing once again on a path of incremental optimizations.

I once said in public and in writing that I predicted we would never get to zettaflops computing. Here, I retract this prediction and contribute a contradicting assertion: zettaflops can be achieved in less than 10 years if we adopt innovations in non-von Neumann architecture. With a change to cryogenic technologies, we can reach yottaflops by 2030.

The rest of the interview covers a number of interesting topics, such as China's increased presence on the supercomputing list.

Previously: Thomas Sterling: 'I Think We Will Never Reach Zettaflops' [] (2012)

Related: IBM Reduces Neural Network Energy Consumption Using Analog Memory and Non-Von Neumann Architecture []
IEEE Releases the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems (IRDS) []
June 2018 TOP500 List: U.S. Claims #1 and #3 Spots []

Original Submission