What’s a supercomputer? How the U.S. will resolve who to punish with China tech curbs

By Jane Lanhee Lee and Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – Deciding who will get harm by sweeping new U.S. curbs on promoting know-how to China will come down partly to what constitutes a “supercomputer,” specialists informed Reuters.

World wide, the semiconductor business on Friday started to wrestle with wide-ranging U.S. restrictions on promoting chips and chip manufacturing tools to China.

Shares of chip tools makers drooped, however business specialists mentioned a brand new U.S. definition of a supercomputer might be pivotal to the brand new guidelines’ impression on China.

Supercomputers can be utilized in creating nuclear weapons and different navy applied sciences, and specialists say how you can outline them has lengthy bedeviled regulators attempting to pin down an ever-advancing technological goal.

The brand new American guidelines outline supercomputers broadly by way of computing energy in an outlined area: a machine with 100 petaflops – the power to hold out 100 trillion operations per second – in 41,600 cubic ft, with another caveats.

Senior authorities officers mentioned in a media briefing that their intention was to focus on solely China’s most superior programs that would signify a nationwide safety menace to the US quite than business exercise.

However specialists puzzled whether or not Chinese language tech giants’ densely packed knowledge facilities owned by the likes of Alibaba Group Holding or TikTok-owner ByteDance would possibly quickly attain supercomputer standing based mostly on the brand new definition, even when that’s not what U.S. regulators supposed.

“Information middle build-outs like Alibaba or ByteDance would have the potential to achieve petaflop build-outs,” mentioned CCS Perception chip analyst Wayne Lam mentioned.

The brand new definition is unlikely to vary as business know-how improves. Present-day Chinese language supercomputers could at some point turn out to be the company commonplace, however they are going to nonetheless face the bounds imposed Friday to cease any chip made with U.S. tools or know-how from going into China. Corporations “could very effectively run into supercomputing limitations throughout the subsequent couple of years,” Lam mentioned.

Jack Dongarra, a professor of pc science who helps lead a bunch known as TOP500 that ranks the world’s quickest supercomputers, mentioned he disagreed with the static definition.

“The problem is that the definition of a supercomputer will change over time,” he mentioned by electronic mail.

Main Chinese language corporations with huge knowledge facilities corresponding to Baidu, Alibaba and ByteDance didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark. Tencent declined to remark.

The definition of computing energy per cubic foot additionally could supply room for inventive workarounds. As an illustration, mentioned one skilled, use fiber optic cables to tie collectively immense computing energy over a bigger area.

“They might unfold their supercomputers out over a bigger area,” mentioned one chip and knowledge middle skilled who requested anonymity as a result of politically charged nature of the brand new guidelines.

“The common supercomputer architect would say, ‘That is not how issues are finished!’ However not with the ability to do it one other approach breeds numerous creativity, and willingness to do issues in a different way.”

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Jane Lanhee Lee in Oakland, California; enhancing by Peter Henderson, Ken Li and Richard Chang)