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 partially to what constitutes a “supercomputer,” consultants instructed Reuters.

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

Shares of chip gear makers drooped, however trade consultants 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 consultants say the best way to outline them has lengthy bedeviled regulators attempting to pin down an ever-advancing technological goal.

The brand new American guidelines outline supercomputers broadly when it comes to computing energy in an outlined area: a machine with 100 petaflops – the flexibility to hold out 100 trillion operations per second – in 41,600 cubic toes, with another caveats.

Senior authorities officers mentioned in a media briefing that their intention was to focus on solely China’s most superior techniques that would symbolize a nationwide safety menace to america moderately than business exercise.

However consultants questioned whether or not Chinese language tech giants’ densely packed information 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 isn’t what U.S. regulators supposed.

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

The brand new definition is unlikely to alter as trade know-how improves. Present-day Chinese language supercomputers could in the future develop into the company normal, however they’ll nonetheless face the bounds imposed Friday to cease any chip made with U.S. gear or know-how from going into China. Corporations “could very properly run into supercomputing limitations throughout the subsequent couple of years,” Lam mentioned.

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

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

Main Chinese language corporations with huge information facilities reminiscent of 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 provide room for artistic workarounds. For example, mentioned one skilled, use fiber optic cables to tie collectively immense computing energy over a bigger area.

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

“The typical supercomputer architect would say, ‘That is not how issues are accomplished!’ However not with the ability to do it one other manner breeds loads of creativity, and willingness to do issues otherwise.”

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