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Meta looking to dominate global supercomputer race

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Social media giant's RSC to “pave the way toward building technologies for the next major computing platform – the metaverse”

Meta's RCS. Photo from official Meta blog
Meta's RCS. Photo from Meta/Facebook official blog

The much-hyped metaverse just got a major boost, as Meta (Facebook) announced on Monday its new AI Research SuperCluster (RSC). According to the company, RSC is already among the fastest AI supercomputers running today, and will be the fastest in the world once it is fully built, in mid-2022.

The supercomputer is designed to help Meta’s researchers build better AI models that will work across hundreds of languages, analyze text and image, develop new augmented reality tools, and ultimately “pave the way toward building technologies for the next major computing platform – the metaverse”, says the company announcement.

“The experiences we're building for the metaverse require enormous compute power (quintillions of operations / second!) and RSC will enable new AI models that can learn from trillions of examples, understand hundreds of languages, and more,” Meta’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote in a Facebook post.

Meta revealed that its researchers are already using RSC to train large models in natural language processing (NLP) and computer vision for research, with the aim of one day training models with trillions of parameters. High performance computing infrastructure is a critical component in training such large models.

from Meta/Facebook official blog
from Meta/Facebook official blog

Using NVIDIA technology, RSC is expected to be the largest customer of the company’s DGX A100 systems once fully deployed. An NVIDIA blog post notes that “Despite challenges from COVID-19, RSC took just 18 months to go from an idea on paper to a working AI supercomputer.”

In its blog post, Meta also addresses privacy concerns, stating that “the entire data path from our storage systems to the GPUs is end-to-end encrypted and has the necessary tools and processes to verify that these requirements are met at all times.”

Supercomputer world domination: another US-China front

According to the latest TOP500 ranking contest, the world’s fastest computer is Fugaku which is installed at the Riken Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan. Coming in second is Summit, an IBM-built system installed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORRNL) in Tennessee. Summit is the fastest system in the US.

The top 10 list also includes two Chinese supercomputers – Sunway TaihuLight, which is installed at the National Supercomputer Center in Wuxi, came in at number 4, and Tianhe-2A, at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou reached number 7.

Systems from China and the USA dominated the list, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the supercomputers on the TOP500. China has 173 systems on the latest list (down from 186), and the US has 150 (up from 123).

The US-China competition to dominate the supercomputer sphere – just one small aspect of their global dominance battle – came under the spotlight in April 2021, when the US Department of Commerce added seven Chinese supercomputer entities (including the two entities mentioned above) to it Entity List for “conducting activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests” of the US.

“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” said Gina Raimondo, US Secretary of Commerce, in a statement following the blacklisting. “The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilizing military modernization efforts.”

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