Most Influential Projects 2021

12 Perlmutter

Perlmutter is the world’s fastest artificial intelligence supercomputer

For mapping the universe at warp speed—and that’s just for starters

The project to build what’s billed as the world’s fastest artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer just wrapped in May. And it’s already acing one of its first assignments: The super-speedy Perlmutter is helping create a 3D map of the visible universe—all 11 billion light-years of it—by processing data from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a kind of cosmic camera that can capture as many as 5,000 galaxies in a single exposure. 

Prepping that type of data would typically take weeks or months on prior systems. But Perlmutter, which crunches numbers with the 16-bit and 32-bit mixed-precision math used in AI applications, can get it done within just a few days.

The US$146-million project was a joint endeavor between the U.S. National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, Nvidia and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. And while starting to map the universe might be celebration enough, the team behind Perlmutter sees that application as just the beginning. 

“Perlmutter’s ability to fuse AI and high-performance computing will lead to breakthroughs in a broad range of fields from materials science and quantum physics to climate projections, biological research and more,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said.