Anyone who remembers the time before human beings stepped on the moon can recall the exhilaration of the challenge President John Kennedy made in 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
Nothing in the interim has come close to the excitement of doing something so impossible on the face of it. But PathForward, the exascale computing challenge, comes close. We are going to make a computer so powerful and so fast that it will alter the way we live. If we succeed, life will be as different afterward as it was when we saw astronaut Neil Armstrong take “a giant leap for mankind.”
Earlier this year, the annual list of the world’s fastest computers came out: The Chinese are responsible for the top two slots, and the third is held by the Swiss, knocking the U.S. down to the fourth spot. Now, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded six American companies shares of a $258 million grant pool in the pursuit of exascale computing. If successful, the PathForward program will put the U.S. at the head of this list.