I was moved by Prime Minister Modi’s remarks to the team of dedicated scientists who helped India almost land a probe on the moon. He was right to point out the palpable innovative zeal which flowed from India’s Lunar Mission and that its impact will be felt in other realms of India’s ambition to become a knowledge society.

With renewed aspirations to excel in science, engineering and business, the time is ripe for India to invest in the infrastructure that will help achieve these goals – including supercomputers. We owe it to scientists, business and our citizens to ensure our country has the tools it needs to succeed.

Why supercomputers?

Developed (or almost-developed) countries around the world have started investing heavily in high-performance computing (supercomputers) to help boost their economies and tackle the next generation of society-level problems.

Supercomputers have already made huge contributions to the world in which we live. With their unique ability to simulate the real world based on massive amounts of data, supercomputers have made cars and planes safer, and fuel more efficient and environmentally friendly; they help in the discovery and extraction of new sources of oil and gas, in developing alternative energy sources and to advance medical science further than ever before.

They have allowed weather forecasters to create more accurate predictions of severe storms that can devastate lives and property, enabling better mitigation planning and early warning systems. They are increasingly used by traditional commercial industries ranging from financial services to manufacturing and internet companies, in addition to being heavily utilized in vital infrastructure systems such as water supply networks, energy grids and transportation. As we look to the future, applications of artificial intelligence running at any moderate degree of scale will depend on supercomputing to analyse huge datasets. This short explanatory video brings the potential of HPC to life.

This is the reason that countries like the US, China, France, Germany, Japan and Russia have created national-level supercomputing strategies and are investing substantial resources in these programmes. These are the countries against whom India has to compete in its bid to become a world-leading economy by 2024 and a centre for scientific and business excellence. As an example of how far behind India is falling, the Top 500 list of supercomputers, counts fewer than five in our country.

India’s pursuit of excellence

Is it really necessary for a country like India to invest in expensive technology like supercomputers? Can’t we make do with something more economical, more frugal? After all, we launched our Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission with a budget of $73 million and we almost made it to the Moon's south pole, where no country has ever gone, for less than $150 million.

India is not typically considered to be a pioneer or among the leaders when it comes to adopting newer technologies. Cynics point to factors like our population of 1.4 billion people and huge disparities in their incomes, as well as average to below-average infrastructures and aversion to risk, as contributing to a country with the highest number of IT professionals in the world but with a reputation as a laggard in adopting innovation.

But we have an opportunity to reverse this trend. Our country has reached a stage where it has the will and the wherewithal to provide better lives to its citizens. It wants to enhance the impact of its welfare programmes by formulating the right schemes for the right beneficiaries in the right parts of the country. It needs to improve its prediction of cyclones and droughts to better protect our population and it wants to better plan infrastructure for its fast-expanding cities. Supercomputers can help realize these goals.

A country like India can no longer afford to ignore supercomputers; it needs the capacity to solve complex scientific problems which have real-life implications. It needs its workforce to have the skills to participate and lead in new innovations across various academic and industrial sectors. It needs to fulfil its goal of becoming a trillion-dollar digital economy and among the best places in the world to set up a digital business. To do all of this we need the appropriate infrastructure – digital as well as physical.

As an example of the power of supercomputing we can look to China’s Jiangsu province, where the supercomputer “Sunway TaihuLight” performs a range of tasks, including climate science, weather forecasting and earth-system modelling to help ships avoid rough seas, farmers improve their yield and offshore drilling remain safe and optimized. With a processing power of more than 93 Petaflops, TaihuLight has already led to an increase in profits and a reduction in costs that are cumulatively more than its cost of $270 million.

In the US, supercomputers are radically transforming the healthcare system. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has used supercomputers to create a far more detailed model of the Hepatitis-C virus, a major cause of liver disease that costs $9 billion in healthcare costs in the US alone. Using supercomputers, the researchers have now developed a model that comprehensively simulates the human heart down to the cell level and could lead to a substantial reduction in heart diseases, which cost the US around $200 billion each year.

On August 14 2017, the SpaceX CRS-12 rocket was launched from Kennedy Space Center to send Dragon Spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) National Lab. Aboard the Dragon was a HPE supercomputer, called the Spaceborne, which is part of a year-long experiment conducted by HPE and NASA to run a supercomputer system in space. The goal is for the system to operate seamlessly in the harsh conditions of space for one year – roughly the amount of time it would take to travel to Mars.

India

What is the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2019?

Under the theme, Innovating for India: Strengthening South Asia, Impacting the World, the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2019 will convene key leaders from government, the private sector, academia and civil society on 3-4 October to accelerate the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and boost the region’s dynamism.

Hosted in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the aim of the Summit is to enhance global growth by promoting collaboration among South Asian countries and the ASEAN economic bloc.

The meeting will address strategic issues of regional significance under four thematic pillars:

• The New Geopolitical Reality – Geopolitical shifts and the complexity of our global system

• The New Social System – Inequality, inclusive growth, health and nutrition

• The New Ecological System – Environment, pollution and climate change

• The New Technological System – The Fourth Industrial Revolution, science, innovation and entrepreneurship

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If India truly wants to become a knowledge-driven, multi-trillion-dollar economy, which is able to support cutting-edge science to benefit its economy, its society and the businesses that operate within it environment, investment in supercomputing is a necessity.

Without it, India risks being surpassed on the global stage by other nations and will consequently miss the huge benefits that come from having this vitally important technology at the disposal of India’s best and brightest minds. The Modi Government has big ambitions for India and supercomputing can help make them a reality.