Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why I'm Not Worried About the Awesome Chinese Supercomputer

About halfway into the New York Times' story about how the Chinese now have the world's fastest supercomputer is a paragraph that demonstrates why I'm not worried about it as a long-term problem:

"“What is scary about this is that the U.S. dominance in high-performance computing is at risk,” said Wu-chun Feng, a supercomputing expert and professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.”"

Now: Maybe there's a supercomputing expert who goes by the name of "Johnny Appleseed" in China. But I doubt it. We're in a, um, xenophobic moment right now in the United States -- but our country seems, even now, far more open to educating, employing (and, most important) making citizens out of the best and brightest people from other countries. Now: That's not a given that will always be the case, and it's not a given that people will always want to come here. (The Great Recession has apparently lowered illegal immigration rates, for example.) But for now, I think it gives the U.S. a long-term edge in keeping our economy and technology dynamic.


Ruth said...

Yeah, Johnny Appleseed...I think I know HIM!
Ha, ha...your article cracked me up! Keep up the good work, Joel.

KhabaLox said...

"(and, most important) making citizens out of the best and brightest people from other countries."

Is that true? I wonder what percentage of foreign students eventually become permanent residents or citizens.

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education from last year notes that the number of foreign students hit an all time high of 671,616 in 08-09, an 8% increase. But it goes on to say that the growth came mostly from China (a 60% gain there), while countries like South Korea and India saw declines. Coincidentally, last week's Time Magazine has an article about how American Universities are trying to set up campuses in India and elsewhere, but are running into problems, leading to a strengthening of the local industry.

India is in the midst of a higher-education revolution. The funds-starved public-university system has been unable to keep up with demand, giving way to a swell of private colleges. India has 20,000 higher-education institutions — the most of any country in the world and three times as many as exist in the U.S.

But I don't think the ethnicity of our scientists or researchers is very important. What I take away from the article is that China has decided that this is a big priority for them, and that, I think, is important. I'm not too worried about this particular supercomputer - distributed computing - can be more effective and efficient in a lot of applications from what I understand - but I do worry that we (the USA) don't put enough emphasis on science and technology education and research.