Harnessing the power of technology


April 2, 2020 2:02PM

Through technology and innovation, Tennessee is doing its part to find a vaccine for COVID-19 thanks in part to Summit—the world’s most powerful supercomputer—located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Summit supercomputer, built by IBM, is part of the newly formed COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium (HPCC) which has academic institutions, federal laboratories, and tech companies coming together to solve this pandemic.

With the US Department of Energy easing its restrictions on the use of the Summit and other supercomputers, researchers can now run billions of calculations on how current compounds work on the coronavirus. Since the formation of the COVID-19 HPCC, Summit has discovered 77 compounds that can be effective against coronavirus, taking only a few days where an average computer would take months to run the same calculations.

Governments easing restrictions on these machines are not the only way computers can help solve this crisis. A step taken that required no government intervention was a program developed by a Stanford University Professor. The program allows unused space on individuals’ computers to be used as a “crowdsourced supercomputer”. Once downloaded, the program runs in the background of any personal computer, harnesses unused computing space, and with over 400,000 users, has made the program faster than the top seven supercomputers combined. Industry leaders like Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services have also pledged millions of dollars in grants and free access to servers for researchers around the globe to use and hopefully discover treatments for the virus.

Whether the discovery of coronavirus treatments comes from crowdsourced supercomputers or industry leaders and removal of government restrictions, technological innovation will have played a major part in solving this problem. The best move forward once this crisis is behind us would not be to bring back or put in more government restrictions to computing and research, but to question why government restrictions were put there in the first place. The removal of these restrictions has shown how innovation can flourish and take up the task of finding a solution to this pandemic.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, the unprecedented actions to try and stop the spread of the virus has unleashed a new era of innovation in science and technology. Tennessee’s Summit and crowdsourced supercomputers—not big government—may be the answer to many of the world’s problems, now and in the future. COVID-19 has exposed how government red tape gets in the way of solutions and advancements. Just as we should regularly wash our hands, we should also regularly wash away bad government policies that stifle innovation and free market solutions.