Artificial intelligence complements the abilities and reinforces human talent. Coined in 1955 to describe a new computer science sub-discipline, “Artificial Intelligence” today includes a variety of technologies and tools, some time-tested, others relatively new. IDC estimated that the AI market will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020.

Supercomputers today have already turbocharged some AI applications. Let’s take a brief look at the AI-powered smartest machines on Earth.


With a brain size of 2,400 home computers and a database of 10 million documents; augmented by AI, IBM Watson supercomputer is dubiously yet famously predicted massive takeover of all time.

The Watson supercomputer processes at a rate of 80 teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second). To replicate (or surpass) a high-functioning human’s ability to answer questions, Watson accesses 90 servers with a combined data store of over 200 million pages of information, which it processes against six million logic rules.


Summit or OLCF-4 is a supercomputer developed by IBM for use at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which as of November 2018 was the fastest supercomputer in the world, capable of 200 petaflops. Its current LINPACK is clocked at 148.6 petaflops. As of November 2018, the supercomputer is also the 3rd most energy-efficient in the world with a measured power efficiency of 14.668 GFlops/watt. Summit is the first supercomputer to reach exaop (a quintillion operations per second) speed, achieving 1.88 exaops during a genomic analysis and is expected to reach 3.3 exaops using mixed precision calculations.


Sierra or ATS-2 is a supercomputer built for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for use by the National Nuclear Security Administration as the second Advanced Technology System. It is primarily used for predictive applications in stockpile stewardship, helping to assure the safety, reliability and effectiveness of the United States’ nuclear weapons.

Sierra is very similar in architecture to the Summit supercomputer built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Sierra system uses IBM POWER9 CPUs in conjunction with Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs. The nodes in Sierra are Witherspoon S922LC, IBM POWER9 22C 3.1GHz, NVIDIA Volta GV100 OpenPOWER servers with two GPUs per CPU and four GPUs per node. These nodes are connected with Dual-rail Mellanox EDR InfiniBand with 1.57 million cores and 94.64 petaflops.


The Sunway TaihuLight (Chinese: 神威·太湖之光Shénwēi·tàihú zhī guāng) is a Chinese supercomputer which, as of November 2018, is ranked third in the TOP500 list, with a LINPACK benchmark rating of 93 petaflops. The name is translated as divine power, the light of Taihu Lake. This is nearly three times as fast as the previous Tianhe-2, which ran at 34 petaflops. As of June 2017, it is ranked as the 16th most energy-efficient supercomputer in the Green500, with an efficiency of 6.051 GFlops/watt. It was designed by the National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC) and is located at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi in the city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu province, China.

The Sunway TaihuLight was the world’s fastest supercomputer for two years, from June 2016 to June 2018, according to the TOP500 lists. The record was surpassed in June 2018 by IBM’s Summit.


Tianhe-2 or TH-2 (Chinese: 天河-2; pinyin: tiānhé-èr; literally: ‘Heavenriver-2’, i.e. ‘Milky Way 2’) is a 33.86-petaflops supercomputer located in the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou, China. It was developed by a team of 1,300 scientists and engineers.

It was the world’s fastest supercomputer according to the TOP500 lists for June 2013, November 2013, June 2014, November 2014, June 2015, and November 2015. The record was surpassed in June 2016 by the Sunway TaihuLight. In 2015, plans of the Sun Yat-sen University in collaboration with Guangzhou district and city administration to double its computing capacities were stopped by a US government rejection of Intel’s application for an export license for the CPUs and coprocessor boards.

In response to the US sanction, China introduced the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer in 2016, which substantially outperforms the Tianhe-2 (and also affected the update of Tianhe-2 to Tianhe-2A replacing US tech), and now ranks fourth in the TOP500 list while using completely domestic technology including the Sunway manycore microprocessor.


In 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $60 million grant to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to deploy a new petascale computing system, Frontera. Deployed in June 2019, Frontera is the 5th most powerful supercomputer in the world, and the fastest supercomputer on a university campus. Early user access began in June 2019, with full system production scheduled for late-summer 2019. It’s powered by Dell C6420, Xeon Platinum 8280 28C 2.7GHz, Mellanox InfiniBand HDR , Dell EMC with 448,448 cores.

Up to 80% of the available hours on Frontera, more than 55 million node hours each year, will be made available through the NSF Petascale Computing Resource Allocation program. Frontera achieved 23.5 PetaFLOPS on the high-performance LINPACK benchmark, a measure of the system’s floating point computing power. To match what Frontera can compute in just one second, a person would have to perform one calculation every second for about a billion years. The main system’s theoretical peak performance will be 38.7 PetaFLOPS.


Piz Daint is a supercomputer in the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, named after the mountain Piz Daint in the Swiss Alps. It is powered by Cray XC50, Xeon E5-2690v3 12C 2.6GHz, Aries interconnect, NVIDIA Tesla P100 with 387,872 cores.

It was ranked 8th on the TOP500 ranking of supercomputers until the end of 2015, higher than any other supercomputer in Europe. At the end of 2016, the computing performance of Piz Daint was tripled to reach 25 petaflops; it thus became the third most powerful supercomputer in the world. Since 2018 Piz Daint is ranked 6th on the TOP500 ranking after AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure.


Trinity, a Cray XC40 supercomputer at the Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory was recently upgraded with Intel “Knights Landing” Xeon Phi processors (Intel Xeon Phi 7250 68C 1.4GHz, Aries interconnect), which propelled it from 8.10 petaflops six months ago to 20.16 petaflops with 980,000 cores.

The Trinity Supercomputer Phase II project was completed during the summer of 2017, and the computer became fully operational during an unclassified “open science” run; it has now transitioned to classified mode. Trinity is designed to provide an increased computational capability for the National Nuclear Security Agency in support of increasing geometric and physics fidelities in nuclear weapons simulation codes, while maintaining expectations for total time to solution.

AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) – Fujitsu

AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) is a planned supercomputer being built at the University of Tokyo for use in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning. It is being built by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. It is powered by PRIMERGY CX2550 M4, Xeon Gold 6148 20C 2.4GHz, NVIDIA Tesla V100 SXM2, Infiniband EDR with 391,680 cores

ABCI is expected to be completed in first quarter 2018 with a planned performance of 130 petaFLOPS. Power consumption is targeting 3 megawatts, and a planned power usage effectiveness of 1.1. If performance meets expectations, ABCI would be the second most powerful supercomputer built, surpassing the current leader Sunway TaihuLight’s 93 petaflops. But still behind the Summit (supercomputer).

SuperMUC-NG – Lenovo

SuperMUC is a supercomputer of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. It is housed in the LRZ’s data centre in Garching near Munich.

SuperMUC is an IBM iDataPlex system containing ThinkSystem SD650, Xeon Platinum 8174 24C 3.1GHz, Intel Omni-Path, Lenovo with 305,856 cores and performs 19.48 petaflops.

Lassen – IBM

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Lassen Lassen is similar to the classified Sierra system (same architecture) but smaller in size with ~20 petaFLOP/s peak performance compared to Sierra’s 125 petaFLOP/s peak. The system is designated for unclassified simulation and analysis.

It is powered by IBM Power System S922LC, IBM POWER9 22C 3.1GHz, Dual-rail Mellanox EDR Infiniband, NVIDIA Tesla V100 , IBM / NVIDIA / Mellanox with 288,288 cores.

Future of AI-powered Smartest machines

According to HP CEO Meg Whitman, “The secrets to the next great scientific breakthrough, industry-changing innovation or life-altering technology hide in plain sight behind the mountains of data we create every day. To realize this promise, we can’t rely on the technologies of the past, we need a computer built for the big data era.”

From the high definition movies, we stream, to the weather, traffic and other satellite info we use, the future lies in plain old number-crunching. That’s what supercomputers do best. Technology is easy to be taken for granted, yet it can have an incredible impact, both beneficial or adverse, on our lives. We are yet to see the true extent of its potential.