A supercomputer of this power will be incredibly useful for modeling things
other than nuclear decay and global climate. At over a quadrillion – a million
billion – calculations per second, Roadrunner is the only computer on Earth
that can keep up with one of the few things more amazing than itself: the human
Los Alamos researchers are putting this power to work with a program dubbed PetaVision.
The program was created to model neuron and synapse interaction in the visual
cortex of the human brain. The brain uses over a billion neurons and trillions
of synapses alone to process the visual information it receives and is one of
the most complicated processes known to exist in grey matter.
Supercomputers like Roadrunner bring new possibilities for modeling human
recognition systems, and the advances are not likely to stop there. In the
past, computers have been unable to flawlessly perform cognitive tasks that the
human brain does easily; tasks like picking out a face in a crowd, or detecting
oncoming vehicles in traffic. Such a large step up in processing power may
enable scientists to breech this difficult wall in mimicry.
The researchers used PetaVision to set a processing record with Roadrunner,
spinning up to an astonishing 1.144 petaflop/s. "Just a week after formal
introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational
tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago,” explains Terry
Wallace, associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los
The supercomputer's architecture is based on a hybrid node system. Each node
contains two AMD Opteron dual-core and four PowerXCell 8i processers. The
PowerXCell CPUs are derived from the same Cell processor used in the Sony Playstation
3 and act as computational accelerators for the Opterons.
quote: "Based on the results of PetaVision's inaugural trials, Los Alamos researchers believe they can study in real time the entire human visual cortex"