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Go Ask ALICE

It's time for the yearly batch of retrospectives and predictions. Count me in! Let's see, the big thing of 2007? Well, that had to be multi-core. And, the big prediction for 2008? Why that would be multi-core, once again. There, I'm done. Enjoy your year.

It’s time for the yearly batch of retrospectives and predictions. Count me in! Let’s see, the big thing of 2007? Well, that had to be multi-core. And, the big prediction for 2008? Why that would be multi-core, once again. There, I’m done. Enjoy your year.

I’m not really done… Being a “God does play dice” (and pinball) kind of guy, I find predicting the future to be a somewhat worthless endeavor.

Allow me to elaborate. Most predictions are based on extrapolating a line of some sort. If you extrapolated the game console line, the PS3 and Xbox 360 were destined to crush the Wii. Similarly, Microsoft’s Vista was going to usher in a new era of computing and those $200 Linux desktops from Wal-Mart were never going to sell.

Because the universe is non-linear and pretty much random, one never really knows what the future holds. New developments usually come from outside the box because everyone else is sitting inside the box drinking the market driven Kool-Aid.

Therefore, instead of trying to make some lucky linear predictions to prove I’m some kind of oracle, I’ll make some wild guesses. If they turn out to be wrong, then I can say I told you so. If they are right, then I suppose I got lucky with the dice. So here goes.

First, I believe the time is right for a personal cluster. I’m not talking about a desk-side box with built-in coffee maker, but one that sits on your desk. Why a cluster design and not an SMP box? For one, I believe that the same commodity economics that pushed rack mount clusters past big SMP systems will translate to the desktop. In addition, the cluster approach provides redundancy and power management opportunities not available with the SMP approach.

Second, a desktop cluster will provide one GFLOP of HPL performance for less than fifty dollars. That is, expect to achieve 50 GFLOPS or more running HPL for a cost of about $2,500. And if you want to spend a little extra, you will probably have terabyte of RAID1 storage.

Third, in addition to HPC, the desktop cluster will be used for (sit down for this one) Artificial Intelligence (AI). That is right, HAL 9000 is on the way. Of course AI has been oversold in the past, but it has made steady progress. Clusters are great for genetic algorithms, speech recognition, machine learning, neural nets, and sorts of AI type things.

And there is a need for AI. The more connections we have, the more simultaneous conversations we must maintain. The bigger the World Wide Web, the harder it is to find the haystack with your needle in it. AI offers a way to manage your corner of and expanding hyperspace your way.

Still not sure about how AI is going to show up in our ever-growing connected world? Go ask ALICE. Not everyone needs to fold proteins or predict the weather on their desktop just yet, but everyone needs a friend. Welcome to 2008.

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