The Department of Energy is introducing a supercomputer that it believes is the world’s fastest, which would put the US at the head of the pack in a twice-a-year official ranking of the world’s 500 fastest computers. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the competition for fastest computer is a point of pride among computer scientists, and the US has not held the top spot since November 2012. China has been the frontrunner for the last two years. The Summit supercomputer, which cost about $200 million, takes up the floor space of about two tennis courts and can deliver up to 200 quadrillion calculations per second—or 200 petaflops, reports Wired. To put it in perspective, that’s about as fast as "7.6 billion people doing 26 million calculations per second on a hand calculator," per CNET.
Built by IBM, it will be used by the government, academics, and industry researchers to solve problems in myriad scientific areas. One of Summit’s first projects will involve developing treatments for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and opioid addiction. It will also be used to study exploding stars, known as supernovas. It could be used for oil exploration, weapons development, climate research, and for cracking encryption codes. But it may not be in the top spot for long. By 2020, analysts believe that China will have a supercomputer capable of performing more than 1 million trillion calculations (or exaflops) per second, which is considered a holy grail in supercomputing, reports the Journal. "That will cause a certain amount of political gnashing of teeth," says a computer analyst. (Read more supercomputer stories.)