スパコン凍結 科学技術立国の屋台骨が傾く

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 22, 2009)
Supercomputer vital to Japan's scientific future
スパコン凍結 科学技術立国の屋台骨が傾く(11月22日付・読売社説)

Is the new administration's stance on science and technology about to be called into question due to its budget measures?

In its review of ministerial budget requests for fiscal 2010, which is aimed at cutting wasteful spending, the Government Revitalization Unit has decided to "effectively freeze" a project by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry to develop a next-generation supercomputer.

The supercomputer would be used for science and technology research.

The world's leading supercomputers can make calculations one million times faster than a standard personal computer.

They have more than 1,000 central processing units--the brains of a computer--as well as other components that allow for higher computing speed.

Most supercomputers are huge and due to the heat they generate while making calculations need to be installed in a large, well air-conditioned room.

The machines are used for simulations in a wide variety of fields, including climate-change prediction, aircraft design and genetic research. They are indispensable to those who need to conduct tests in fields where practical experiments are nearly impossible to do and they cut the time it takes to carry out research, thereby keeping research costs down.

In light of these important roles, there is a fierce global competition to develop supercomputers and the Japanese project is going up against the world's best. Does the government intend to undermine advancement in key research areas?


U.S. leading the way

Currently, the United States is leading the race to develop supercomputers that are even better than the world's leading models, which have reached speeds of about 1 quadrillion calculations per second.

Japan's next-generation supercomputers aim at improving this calculation performance by the power of one. Such an improvement would see the period taken to develop an aircraft, in simple terms of calculation, lowered to a 10th of the time it currently takes. That would bring huge benefits.

However, it is not easy to improve performance by the power of one over what are already cutting-edge machines. To that end, it is necessary to develop improved circuitry, including better semiconductors, a basic part of every computer. The private sector cannot take on such a massive task alone.

The United States and other countries develop supercomputers with financial backing from their governments. Japan also included about 27 billion yen for this purpose in the fiscal 2010 budget requests.


Govt backing crucial

During scrutiny of the budget request relating to the supercomputer project, government panel members made comments such as, "Is it really necessary to aim for first place [in this field]?" or "It's better to purchase such equipment from abroad." But these observations of the current situation are both poorly expressed and inaccurate.

Unless Japan makes an effort to take the lead in supercomputer development, it will not rank with the superpowers in the field.

Japan ranked first in the world in terms of supercomputer calculation speed in 2002, but lost the top spot 2-1/2 years later. Today, it languishes in 31st place, behind even China and South Korea.

Buying a supercomputer from abroad can prove very difficult because nations closely guard the secrets behind their state-of-the-art technology. Japan would be reduced to purchasing only midranking supercomputers in terms of processing capacity.

If researchers cannot use cutting-edge supercomputers in Japan, it could lead to a brain drain of capable researchers. An overseas report has already appeared in which it was said that Japan's science and technology spheres would fall into decline if the supercomputer project was frozen.

Budget requests for other science and technology-related projects also were severely scrutinized. It is natural to want to cut wasteful spending in the budget requests, but we do not want to see a situation emerge in which Japan's science and technology lifeline also is cut.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 22, 2009)
(2009年11月22日00時10分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-11-22 12:29 | 英字新聞

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