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Monday, November 29, 2010

Air Force Buys 1,760 Sony PlayStation3s: Linked By Lab Under Wright-Patterson, Cluster Is Among World's 10 Most Powerful Supercomputers

Sony PS3 Cluster Creates Supercomputer
[UPDATED 11/30/10 8:27 a.m. -- The Plain Dealer's Steve Koff files a report from the Washington Bureau about the PS3 supercomputer.]
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Toy story, not.  Star Wars, maybe.  The U.S. Air Force plans to dedicate its newest supercomputer -- which has been named Condor -- Wednesday at a facility in Rome, N.Y.  It has clustered 1,760 PlayStation3 consoles to create a 500 teraFLOP device -- it can do 500 trillion operations per second.   That is blazing speed, faster than almost anything on Earth.  Said Mark Barnell, director of Air Force Research Laboratory high power computing:  "Such capability exceeds any other interactive supercomputer currently used by the Department of Defense."

The Air Force spent about $2 million for the PS3s and figures it may have saved up to $40 million by using game consoles rather than buying a typical commercial supercomputer.  The PlayStation3 came on the market just before Christmas in 2006 for playing computer games.  It is quieter than an Xbox360 and louder than a Wii, and probably not quite as popular as either rival.  It costs about $400 and nobody this side of Santa Claus ever expected that the 11-pound PS3 consoles would be enlisted for military service outside a round of Call of Duty. The whole USAF mashup sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.  But the Air Force said the gamers opened the door:

"The gaming marketplace has eagerly funded research and development for their products, resulting in very affordable yet powerful mass-marketed game systems.  The military has discovered that his commercial technology is a quickly reachable low-hanging fruit for its own applications.  The Condor system will be freely available to all DoD users on a shared basis . . . The system will be able to accomplish a wide variety of supercomputing tasks for a fraction of the typical investment."

Here's lots of links about PlayStation3s, which remain on lists as Christmas gifts. And here's the Air Force news release about the project.  One planned use is research into neuromorphic artificial intelligence.  That's a mouthful of a phrase that means a robotic device that mimics natural biological functions for a sense of touch, or sight, or balance and movement.  The eventual goal would be some kind of synthetic consciousness -- for now, far beyond a PS3.

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