October 03, 2012
With just six weeks to go until the Election Day in the US, it's worth considering if the results will have any impact on the path of high performance computing. Our friends at The Exascale Report must have wondered too, and asked some of their readers for their take on the politics of HPC.
The specific question posed was: "Will the U.S. presidential election have an impact on HPC and exascale?" More than a third (38 percent) said no. The comments from that side suggested that while Presidential leadership is important, the makeup of the Congress will be the determining factor, given that's the place where the money gets allocated. One anonymous commenter offered this:
“The problem is deeper than the agenda of either presidential candidate. The problem comes from the lack of congressional commitment to very difficult and long-term research, and the fact that the science and technology leadership fails to connect the dots and recognize that economic recovery could very well be fueled by HPC innovation.”
HPC and technology innovation, in general, is a Mom-and-apple-pie issue across the political spectrum, but when it comes actually allocating hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to a program, everyone tightens their fist.
The current aversion to deficit spending by the government is working to destabilize programs. One respondent noted that their federally-funded research organization has been without a real budget for three years, and lives quarter to quarter. According to him/her, "We spend as much time preparing justification reports and fighting for survival as we do actually trying to advance scientific research."
As far as federal support for exascale, that's even more problematic, as it requires educating policymakers on its value and involves a commitment of billions of dollars per year. Of course, there are reasonable people that question the cost and effort required to build these leading-edge machines (see Too Big to FLOP), but the larger issue is whether increased HPC allocations of any kind can be sustained in this deficit-averse political climate.
It's interesting to note that 62 percent of the respondents did believe the upcoming presidential election could have an impact on HPC and exascale support. The last time a US President spent any political capital to push a big, non-defense science and technology program was back in the 60s, when John Kennedy advocated putting a man on the Moon. Given the current political circumstances, to expect presidential leadership on the HPC and exascale front seems like wishful thinking.
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