Dubai: By 2025 you will be able to buy the computing power of the human brain for $1,000 (Dh3,672), according to Dr Colin Harrison, a director and "Master Inventor" for IBM.
Harrison, who recently took some time to speak to Gulf News on a trip to the UAE, said the estimate is based on the current state of super-computers, which IBM has a long history with.
The company built Deep Blue, a machine designed to beat Russian Chess Champion Gary Kasparov, about 12 years ago and it is currently producing a line of high-performance machines called Blue Gene.
"Deep Blue has roughly the processing capacity of a lizard, and the early Blue Genes has roughly the processing capacity of small rodent," said Dr Harrison. "If you want to get to the processing capacity of a human being, I think you need something like 10 petaFLOPS."
How fast it that? The fastest version on the Blue Gene runs at 500 teraFLOPS, which means about 500 trillion mathematical operations per second.
Harrison said that there are some people at IBM who think it would be possible to run the entire internet on Blue Gene, although he says that would only cover "the front end on the internet," such as websites, and not the large behind-the-scenes computations done in data centers.
Ten years ahead
But to get to ten petaFLOPS, someone will have to come up with a machine 20 times faster than the Blue Gene.
He estimates that will probably happen by 2015, but in general, supercomputers are about ten years head of PCs, he said. The laptop you use today is probably as powerful of the Cray super-computers of the 1990s.
But just because you have the computation power, doesn't mean the computer will have the same intelligence, according to Dr Colin Harrison. Computational power doesn't equal Artificial Intelligence.
For IBM, today's super-computers are a result of the Deep Blue-era of computing. "It was in some ways a dead end, because Deep Blue got most of its power from specialised hardware," according to Harrison, who added that such a computer was designed as a "pattern matching system," which really didn't perform much application anywhere else.
"It made us think more, and out of Deep Blue came the project that become Blue Gene," he said. "Although the architecture of the machines are different, Deep Blue got us thinking about the problem."
Unlike the Deep Blue, which just played chess, super-computers like the Blue Gene have real world applications, some of them even here in the Middle East.
High-performance computers are used in the oil and gas industry to locate and map hard-to-reach deposits by analys-ing seismic and sonar waves.
"It's almost like medical ultrasound, in the sense that you're trying to dividualise on the basis on these funny little signals that are coming back your sensors," Harrison said.
While he wasn't sure of IBM's roll in finding the Petrobras oil field off the coast of Brazil, one of the largest fields found in the last 20 years, he did say companies "could never have found that without something to analyse data".
High performance computers are also being used to predict the weather, albeit in very small areas.
"We can provide weather forecasts over a 2 kilometer square for something like a 5 minute time resolution," he said. "This is valuable to, say the airport, which wants to know if a given thunder storm is going to move over a field and if so when, because they have inbound flights."
There are other applications too, including traffic management, but Harrison says even IBM isn't aware of all its applications.
"A lot of that technology is driven by defense departments which run very complicated simulations about things, and they don't always tell us what those things are," he said.
But Harrison does say that this technology is becoming less and less academic.
"We see this kind of real time business process as a very interesting emerging field," he said.
While today's super computers are capable of analysing very complex information, Harrison says these machines are also increasingly being used to monitor traffic and people.
He said the question that most people need to ask is: "How do I feel about a city that is conscious about me?" Harrison's concern doesn't stem from concern about a growing Orwellian society, but from something much more basic.
"I might be concerned that it's very predicable that every Tuesday evening at 8 o'clock, I'm walking down this particular street," he said. "If you wanted to mug me, that might be valuable information."
But Harrison admits his concerns are limited.
"There's not a lot that I'm concerned about, it's more the principle that worries me," and he admits that his concerns aren't everyone's, especially the younger generations who are more comfortable with having their information on line.
"Students today cannot understand, 50 years ago, how little information there was in the world."
New York (Bloomberg) International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the world's largest computer-services company, is testing a wireless-tracking programme for German retailer Metro AG that helps keep meat from going bad on supermarket shelves.
Metro is using wireless tags to measure how long meat sits in refrigerated cases after it's cut and scanned, said Paul Chang, a software executive at Armonk, New York-based IBM. The tags constantly feed data to the market's refrigeration area, letting workers know when the meat needs restocking.
IBM, seeking new markets for its software and technology, is working on six wireless-tagging projects in the food industry. Beyond fighting meat spoilage, the company is studying ways to help the US Food and Drug Administration track food travelling between farms, local distributors and supermarkets.
That could stem the spread of food-borne illnesses, such as this year's salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,440 people.
"This has huge potential for food safety by helping avoid errors by workers having to manually check and rotate perishables," said Mike Griswold, an analyst with AMR Research in Boston. "On the inventory management side, it offers a huge opportunity to lessen the amount of food that gets thrown away, which is typically anywhere from 10 per cent to 15 per cent."
IBM started the wireless-tagging business four years ago to fuel sales of software, the company's most profitable unit. Dusseldorf-based Metro, the world's fourth-largest retailer, is the first supermarket to test the system.
IBM fell $3.46 (Dh12.7), 3.7 per cent, to $89.94 on Thursday in New York Stock Exchange trading. The shares have dropped 17 per cent this year.