In order to win the race we need to build the factory of the future – A Digitally Fuelled Economy Requires Digital Infrastructure

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Supporting innovation within the automotive, natural resources, life sciences, aerospace sectors, and growing small to medium sized entreprises (SME), is an ongoing challenge in Canada.  There is much talk about our ability to compete in these areas. There is talk of opportunities in artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and the Internet of Things. Yet, to lead in any of these areas, Canada requires a national supercomputing infrastructure.

We are missing this  key component in the discussion around digital infrastructure. We talk of networking to transfer big data, secure places to store it, govern it, archive it and manage it.  Then what? In order to extract value you need to compute it. Supercomputers are the modern day workhorse where  discovery and innovation occur and where research software runs. We  have the opportunity to realize the the benefits of a national supercomputing strategy.

Supercomputers are a thousand times more powerful than your laptop and have changed the world with their ability to do parallel processing. Imagine them as ant hills. Millions of ants (processors) working on a single challenge instead of many single transactions. The results are awe inspiring… they help to create  new drugs, new materials, new jet airplanes, new ways to diagnose disease, to reduce greenhouse gases or fight crime or win new nobel prizes. Artificial intelligence, genomics, physics, engineering, advanced manufacturing do not exist without them.

The Trans-Canada highway is extremely beneficial to Canada’s economy. When it was built,  it was too big for any one region, province or federal government to build and support alone. It was  something we built together.  Getting an adequate level of supercomputing capacity will require the same approach.

Supercomputers are expensive, require huge amounts of electricity and need experts to run them. The larger the system; the more compelling the experiments and innovations that are possible. Like the building of our national highway, a national supercomputing strategy could mean the difference between leading globally or being left behind in what is being deemed as the next industrial revolution. We are currently riding  bikes while other nations are building race cars.

Other countries are building significant competitive infrastructures that provide the necessary computing capacity for their science and innovation investments.

A Canadian solution could be to achieve a willingness to pool resources and share national supercomputing resources. We all drive on the same roads, we can share a better supercomputer if it puts us at the front of the line globally.

Compute Canada predicts 15x fold increase in storage requirements and 7x fold in computing requirements in academia alone, yet in Canada we have no plan in place for sustainable, predictable funding for this essential infrastructure.  Access for Canadian innovators  is limited and companies after the discovery stage are often left without access to significant computing resources to grow their companies (with a few exceptions).

Other nations are advancing their strategic approach and overcoming regional and provincial borders to focus on achieving the appropriate level of competitiveness for their nation’s industrial and research pursuits. In order for Canada to compete we must create our own homemade solution.

Leadership class investments (the racecar) would allow Canadians to share access to globally competitive supercomputing resources, and  allow for shared access and cost-recovery scenarios to support local, regional, provincial and national needs.

In Canada, we support some of the world’s top scientist in artificial intelligence, genomics, brain science and social science. They will stay if they have the best tools to do their work. Otherwise, they will drive their knowledge over to another country’s innovation infrastructure – their industrial partners and highly trained students will follow.

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