1978. Easter hols from university. I was wandering through my mum’s kitchen – being a student, I was, as usual, in search of anything that could be eaten without dire consequences. I was also, just as usually, ignoring the Radio 4 she always had on in the background. Except that, this time, the sonorous notes of The Sorceror rang out across the kitchen as I slouched past. That stopped me: as a West Coast hippy misplaced in time and space by a decade and a few thousand miles (here I cite my cowboy boots, bell-bottom flares and a fine collection of Jefferson Airplane albums), anything from The Eagles was OK by me. But on Radio Four?
The picture above is ASCI Red, the world’s fastest supercomputer in 1999-2000. It was about the size of a large tennis court, sucked a couple of MW and cost around $55M (it went through various incarnations). And that’s not to mention the staff of acolytes and air-conditioned buildings required to make it work. Its delivered performance was about 2.4 TFlops (Thousand Billion Floating Point Operations per second), with a theoretical maximum of around 3.2TFlops, delivered by an array of nearly 10,000 processors, all chuntering away in parallel.
The future is accelerating towards us – silently – as the age of the internal combustion engine comes to a close. That’s after 130 years of mobilising, democratising, suffocating and poisoning society (rearrange those to suit your personal priorities). And it looks as though, of the available technologies, battery storage electric vehicles (EVs) are going to win the day. I don’t want to get into a VHS/Betamax argument – in fact, I do, but I’ll be posting that separately – other than to note that the most viable alternative, the hydrogen fuel cell, is in the process of missing the boat.
In two days, we elect a government. In the recent history of things, we’d normally be following our historical party affiliations, where a small number of marginal seats tip the balance between parties who pivot around a vaguely centrist axis where, whatever the outcome, most of us can live with it for another five years, the while employing the traditional British relief valves of dark muttering, sarcasm and cynicism. And so the world turns.
But not this time. This time, the stakes are far greater than a short-term opportunity for an elected government to tinker with the parameters of policy, income, debt and stimulus. This time, the stakes are no less than the future of both the UK’s place in the world and, as a consequence, the future of the UK itself. This is an election whose ramifications will play out, not over a five-year term, but over generations.
This is aimed, in no small part, at my many friends in the US, who I see alternating between despair at their own ‘government’’s behaviour and angst-laden apology to the world for their current Liar-in-Chief. Please, folks, relax, a little at least.
Yes, the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement will do damage – indeed, it already has – but that damage is less to the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change than to US influence in the world.