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Supercomputers are America’s new target for China

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Supercomputers are America's new target for China

Supercomputers are America’s new target for China

On Oct. 7, the US government issued new regulations banning the supply of semiconductor chips and semiconductor chip-making equipment using US technology to the country’s blacklisted Chinese companies and supercomputing systems.

The decision on which Chinese companies are subject to the new US export restrictions will depend, among other things, on the definition of the term “supercomputer”, say experts. According to documents published in the US, a supercomputer is a system that can process 100 petaflops or more, which is 100,000 billion operations per second, and propagates in a volume of about 1,180 ms.

China's supercomputer Sunway TaihuLight.  Photo: Xinhua.

China’s supercomputer Sunway TaihuLight. Colour: Xinhua

Supercomputers can be used in the development of nuclear weapons and many military technologies. However, acc ReutersTwo US tech industry sources warned that the designation could affect data centers at China’s top companies.

US officials say the new restrictions target only Beijing’s most advanced systems and could pose more of a threat to Washington’s national security than normal commercial activities.

However, some experts fear that Alibaba’s and ByteDance’s computer systems will soon achieve US-defined supercomputer status, even if that wasn’t Washington’s original goal. “Alibaba and ByteDance data centers are capable of processing petaflops,” said Wayne Lam, analyst at CCS Insight.

The new definition is unlikely to change even as the tech industry evolves. Chinese supercomputers could now become commonplace for many companies in the future and face the restrictions announced by Washington. “Enterprise systems can reach supercomputer levels in just a few years,” Lam said.

Jack Dongarra, a computer science professor who is part of the TOP500 group that ranks the world’s supercomputers, said he disagreed with the firm description given by the US government. “The problem is that the definition of a supercomputer keeps changing over time,” he said.

The definition of fixed computing power per volume also leaves room for innovative solutions, such as the use of fiber optic cables to connect multiple high-performance computing units. “They can deploy supercomputers on a large scale. Many people may object to this option, but the “difficulty of meeting discretion” and limitations will prompt many new solutions,” commented an unnamed American expert.

Diep Anh (Track Reuters)

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