Two Epic Disruptions in the Computer Industry: One in the 1980s, and One Happening Now


Dr. John L. Gustafson
Professor at School of Computing, National University of Singapore, 
Visiting Scientist, A*STAR Advanced Computing Resource Centre


The computer industry is known for its stunning and relentless rate of improvement: Computers have gotten faster, cheaper, smaller and better every year for many decades. Sometimes, however, the only way forward is to make a wrenching change, one that involves discarding legacy software and established ways of thinking. In the 1980s, the limits of the single-memory, single-processor approach forced the computer industry to change to parallel processing. That revolution was met with intense resistance, since it meant rewriting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of software. Some businesses that were unable or unwilling to adapt to this change did not survive. Today, every processor chip from cell phones to supercomputers contains multiple processors.

A new limit has been reached in recent years, and it stems from power consumption. Data centers use too many megawatts, and mobile device batteries do not last as long as we would like. A key part of this problem lies in the wasteful and outdated way that computers perform arithmetic, using numerical ideas that are over a century old. "Floating point arithmetic" is not merely inefficient; it is quite treacherous to use and has caused disasters that have destroyed billions of dollars and cost human lives. The revolution to change computer arithmetic itself is now underway, and it promises to be just as disruptive as was the transition to parallel computing. This talk will present some first-hand observations about both revolutions.

Speaker Info:
John L. Gustafson is an American computer scientist, chiefly known for his work in High Performance Computing (HPC) such as the invention of Gustafson's Law, introducing the first commercial computer cluster, leading the reconstruction of the Atanasoff–Berry Computer, inventing the unum number format and computation system, and several awards for computer speedup. He was the Chief Product Architect and Senior Fellow at AMD, and previously held the distinguished positions of Director of Intel Labs, CEO of Massively Parallel Technologies, Inc. and CTO at ClearSpeed Technology. Dr. Gustafson holds applied mathematics degrees from Caltech and Iowa State University.
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  Lunch Reception


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Start: Thursday, 15 Sep 2016 10:45 AM
End: Thursday, 15 Sep 2016 12:15 PM
Function Room 6-1, Level 6
SMU Admin Building
81 Victoria Street
Singapore 188065