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How to Stuff Five Universities Into One Computer Center

A multi-institutional Massachusetts computer center tests out terascale computing—and the social engineering needed to use it

3 min read

24 May 2012—When the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center launches at the end of this year, its energy efficiency and low carbon emissions (as IEEE Spectrum has detailed) may garner some headlines. But MGHPCC is a trailblazer in one other, perhaps more significant, way.

It puts to a high-stakes test what might be called the “Thanksgiving dinner” approach to academic computing: Put multiple outspoken and diversely opinionated entities under one roof, cross your fingers, and work to ensure that they all get along.

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The Future of Deep Learning Is Photonic

Computing with light could slash the energy needs of neural networks

10 min read
Image of a computer rendering.

This computer rendering depicts the pattern on a photonic chip that the author and his colleagues have devised for performing neural-network calculations using light.

Alexander Sludds

Think of the many tasks to which computers are being applied that in the not-so-distant past required human intuition. Computers routinely identify objects in images, transcribe speech, translate between languages, diagnose medical conditions, play complex games, and drive cars.

The technique that has empowered these stunning developments is called deep learning, a term that refers to mathematical models known as artificial neural networks. Deep learning is a subfield of machine learning, a branch of computer science based on fitting complex models to data.

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