This fall, the Chinese National University of Defense Technology announced that it had created the world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-1A, which clocks in at 2.5 petaflops (or 2,500 trillion operations) per second. This is the shape of the world to come—but not in the way you might think.
Powering the Tianhe-1A are some three million processing cores from Nvidia, the Silicon Valley company that has sold hundreds of millions of graphics chips for videogames. That’s right—every time someone fires up a videogame like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, the state of the art in technology advances. Hug a geek today.
What a switch. For centuries, the military has driven technology forward, fostering new waves of industrialization and corporate use. James Watt’s steam engine was perfected with the help of a cannon-boring tool. Computers were created during World War II to calculate artillery firing and to break codes. The military bought half of all semiconductors until the late 1960s. Even the first global-positioning systems (GPS) were funded by Congress, not for navigation but as a nuclear detonation detection system. Add microwave ovens from radar, Blu-ray discs from lasers, or Velcro and Tang from NASA, and there’s no doubt how much government acquisition programs have shaped our lives.
Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower was worried enough to declare that “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” No need to worry anymore. That game (pardon the pun) is over: Welcome to the entertainment-industrial complex