May 6, 2009

U.S. computer competitiveness being eroded

A report by the World Technology Evaluation Center shows U.S. competitiveness in a number of computer simulation-driven fields is being eroded.

Science and engineering are advancing rapidly worldwide, due in part to increasingly more powerful computer simulations. But the report says most advanced supercomputers require programming skills that too few U.S. researchers possess.

The startling news was how quickly our assumptions have to change, said Phillip Westmoreland, program director for combustion, fire and plasma systems at the National Science Foundation -- one of the sponsors of the report. Because computer chip speeds aren't increasing, hundreds and thousands of chips are being ganged together, each one with many processors. New ways of programming are necessary.

The nearly 400-page, multi-agency report highlights several areas in which the U.S. still maintains a competitive edge, including the development of algorithms. But it also highlights endeavors that are increasingly driven by efforts in Europe and Asia, such as the creation and simulation of new materials from first principles.

Professor Sharon Glotzer of the University of Michigan led the panel of experts that executed the studies of the Asian, European and U.S. simulation research activities.

The study is available at http://www.wtec.org/sbes/SBES-InitialFullDraftReport-30April2009.pdf.