During the pandemic, artificial intelligence (AI), powered by high-performance computing (HPC), has been behind many critical achievements in the battle against COVID-19, from rapidly sequencing the genomes of new virus strains to designing drugs and vaccines.
This combination of HPC and AI is increasingly driving cutting-edge research, from uncovering cancer cures to predicting severe weather and increasing crop yields in our warming world. When it comes to the big questions facing humanity, HPC computing nodes are driving many new breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML). These technologies are already helping to achieve realistic results that can save lives.
Feed the world
Many of the crops we depend on, from corn to coffee to chocolate, are set to fail in the coming decades as climate change continues. A recent study found that the yields of the world’s top 10 food crops are already declining and that the food insecure countries will suffer the most. To keep up with demand, food production will have to be increased by 50%, and AI and HPC will be key to solving this problem.
Researchers are in a race against time to design new, more efficient ways to grow food. At present, global food production exceeds humanity’s needs, but in the not too distant future, this may not be the case. Understanding this problem requires analyzing vast amounts of data, collected from sources such as extremely high-resolution satellite imagery and weather data. To crush this amount of data requires intelligent AI, backed by an extremely powerful computing infrastructure. It’s a great example of how HPC can support cutting edge AI research.
Dr. Ranga Raju Vatsavai, Associate Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University, and his team are performing cutting-edge geospatial image analysis to predict the future of croplands, using HPC ensembles as well as artificial intelligence software tools such as the LiCO AI platform. In the future, sensors on crop fields will measure humidity and weather conditions, paving the way for a greater understanding of the challenges facing the food we eat.
Anticipate future climate challenges
As the world warms, extreme weather events from droughts to wildfires are becoming more common on almost every continent, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Weather forecasting is becoming more and more important, but it is a much more complex task than simply predicting whether or not it will rain tomorrow.
The power of HPC and AI helps organizations around the world run simulations with unprecedented accuracy. This helps forecast severe weather before it happens, from the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) to the Climate Change and Hydrological Extremes (ClimEx) project.
MMD previously provided three-day forecasts with an accuracy of three kilometers. After using the HPC system, it now provides forecasts up to seven days with an accuracy of one kilometer.
Gene sequencing and medical breakthroughs
Artificial intelligence has led to several breakthroughs that have helped fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In the future, AI, powered by HPC, may pave the way for more significant medical breakthroughs, speeding up cancer diagnosis, fighting blindness, and paving the way for a new era of personalized medicine.
Researchers at the Barcelona Center for Supercomputing have built and trained an AI model that can detect retinal diseases in less than ten minutes. It is a breakthrough that could save the eyesight of millions of people.
HPC is also ushering in a new era of personalized healthcare in the form of genomics, driving faster discovery capability, greater customization, and lower costs within the industry. Until recently, medicine was typically created to treat and diagnose the “average person”. However, greater understanding of heredity and its role in human disease, along with advances in genetic sequencing technology, can enable us to create personalized treatment plans designed to treat individuals.
Since the beginning of the 1970s, genomics has greatly accelerated thanks to technological innovation, particularly as a result of advances in HPC. The complexity of genetic sequencing means that it requires huge amounts of processing power. It typically takes data centers around the world 150-160 hours to process one complete genome, after it has been processed by an expensive genetic sequencer. This became a bottleneck for the laboratory, slowing research progress and introducing new medical developments. Because of this bottleneck, researchers have restricted their focus to single genes, or genomes.
HPC solves this problem by speeding up the time it takes to sequence an entire human genome, allowing scientists to reduce processing time from hours to just minutes. In the fast-paced world of healthcare diagnosis and treatment, this is a game-changing development that has the potential to save lives.
Why HPC creates a bright future
Researchers around the world who are grappling with some of the major challenges of the future have turned to HPC solutions to support their research through artificial intelligence. This spans many scientific areas, including how human intelligence works alongside artificial intelligence, and how computing and communications can be more energy efficient.
For example, Chalmers University in Sweden has partnered with Lenovo to create an AI environment to deal with these unique challenges, with an integrated graphics processing unit (GPU) specifically designed for research in AI and machine learning.
The breakthroughs that will define our future will come from artificial intelligence and machine learning – and high-performance computing will provide the power that helps create a brighter future for our planet.
About the author
Noam Rosen is Director of HPC & AI, Lenovo ISG for EMEA. Lenovo is a $70 billion global technology powerhouse ranked 171st on the Fortune Global 500, employs 75,000 people worldwide, and serves millions of customers every day in 180 markets. Focused on a bold vision to deliver smarter technology for everyone, Lenovo has built on its success as the world’s largest PC company by expanding into key growth areas including server, storage, mobile devices, solutions and services.
Featured image: © Chetan