It’s been somewhat of an interesting week for America’s technology sector, which saw its reputation take some hits on the international level but may yet have a chance to reclaim its top geek status, thanks to a potentially hazardous decision by a shadowy organization called HEPAP.
First came the terrifying revelation by the U.S. Air Force that on Saturday, due to a computer glitch, the U.S. was completely vulnerable to attack by enemy combatants for a good 45 minutes.
For the better part of an hour, apparently, a malfunction in the communication network at an Air Force base in Wyoming left a staggering 50 nuclear missiles offline. That means that if some rogue nation had decided to launch a nuclear war against us last weekend, we would have only had about 9,550 usable warheads with which to strike back.
I don’t know about you, but I find that unacceptable. It’s possible that, had North Korea or Iran known we were brandishing such a reduced arsenal, it might not have proven enough of a deterrent to keep them from lobbing some of their warheads our way.
Sure, North Korea has less than 10 to spare and can only shoot them about halfway across the Pacific, but that definitely puts the residents of the Aleutian Islands at risk. And yes, Iran doesn’t actually possess any nukes right now, but they started loading fuel in their first nuclear reactor this week and declared the event “a victory over their enemies,” so it’s only a matter of time.
The second black eye suffered by U.S. techies came courtesy of China, which seems to be kicking our butt in everything these days, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
It was announced earlier this week that a Chinese scientific research center has unveiled a supercomputer so fast and powerful that it “blows away” the reigning No. 1 computer in the world, according to Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.
Up until last week, the world’s most powerful computer was housed at a national laboratory in Tennessee, but China’s new Tianhe-1A has 1.4 times the horsepower of the Tennessee computer, giving the Chinese computing superiority and technological bragging rights for the first time ever.
Again, this is something that as an American I’m not willing to take. Don’t our scientists realize how important it is to have the largest, fastest computer in the world? If we had a computer like that, maybe that glitch that left a bunch of Eskimos on the brink of nuclear annihilation might have only lasted a half-hour or so.
And because our supercomputers are slower than their Chinese counterparts, Pringles may not be able to put chips in a container without breaking them as well as some Chinese company. (Yes, The New York Times actually cited that as a use for supercomputers.) We can’t have that. I hate when my Pringles are broken.
Fortunately, the U.S. may have a chance to salvage its reputation, as the influential High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to recommend that the Department of Energy extend the lifetime of America’s largest particle accelerator, the Tevatron, by another three years.
That means we still have 36 months to detect the elusive Higgs Boson before scientists at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider do. The Tevatron and the LHC, as you’re no doubt aware, have been locked in a heated race for the last couple of years to see which facility will be the first to identify the theoretical sub-atomic particle that many have called the “God particle.”
It’s so important for the U.S. to win this race that it makes the Tevatron’s estimated $450 million annual budget seem like a pittance, and it makes the threat of Earth-devouring black holes being spawned as a consequence of searching for the Higgs Boson worth the risk.
After all, whoever is first to discover the Higgs will also be the first to be able to use it for stuff. I’m not exactly sure what the practical applications of the discovery would be, or if Higgs Bosons have any practical uses at all, if indeed they exist, but I’m sure that if we’re spending $450 million a year looking for them, they’ll make everyone’s life better when we find them.
At the very least, we should be able to use them to make more powerful nuclear weapons, meaning that a mere 9,550 of them might actually be enough to finally keep us safe.