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Will the Nsa Finally Build Its Superconducting Spy Computer?

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Artist's representation of cryogenic computing.

The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activities' Cryogenic Computing Complexity program could help the National Security Agency achieve its goal of a superconducting supercomputer.

Credit: Bryan Christie Design

The U.S. National Security Agency's vision of a superconducting supercomputer that could save vastly more power while crunching data and deciphering codes much faster than transistor-based systems may leap forward with the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity's (IARPA) Cryogenic Computing Complexity (C3) program.

The first stage of C3 involves fabricating and assessing 64-bit superconducting logic circuits that operate at a 10-GHz clock speed and memory systems that can store about 250 MB, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.

C3 teams led by IARPA-chosen "performers" such as Northrop Grumman, Hypres, and Raytheon BBN Technologies are concentrating on different components. One technology, reciprocal quantum logic circuits, can consume 1/100,000 the power of the best equivalent complementary metal-oxide semiconductors. Also being developed is a cryogenic memory system that controls, reads, and writes to high-density, low-power magnetoresistive random-access memory.

If the first phase of C3 meets with success, a two-year second phase will integrate these core components into an operating cryogenic computer prototype.

C3 director Marc Manheimer thinks a true superconducting supercomputer could be realized in another five to 10 years if the prototype shows promise. He speculates this system could run at 100 petaflops while consuming just 200 kilowatts.

From IEEE Spectrum
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