Accepted Paper:

The global supercomputer race: geopolitics and the discourse of competitiveness  


Nil Uzun (Rutgers University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the global race for the fastest supercomputers and how governments employ and operationalize a rhetoric of competitiveness. Analyzing official communications, I outline the discursive space of supercomputing policies and show how this translates into the scientific field.

Paper long abstract:

Supercomputers, computers that outperform the storage capacity and processing speed of desktop computers by multiple orders of magnitude, have become a key technology in an emerging, increasingly data-driven world, especially with their role in large-scale data analytics, often referred to as 'big data'. As the main actors in the algorithmic analysis of large-scale datasets and simulation, supercomputers also have symbolic power in the global arena where they signify economic and military dominance. Due to the possibilities they offer for the future in terms of 'scientific progress' and 'geopolitical competitive advantage', supercomputers are presented as technological developments of national (security) interest, and often guarded through control over markets and export restrictions.

In 1993 researchers from the U.S. and Germany started to organize Top500, a list of the worlds' fastest 500 supercomputers and the national institutions hosting them. Governments have been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in supercomputing, while the rhetoric of 'global competitiveness' has become the dominant discourse of science and technology policies for high performance computing technologies.

By observing this global race for the fastest supercomputers, particularly focusing on the "EuroHPC" initiative from the European Union, and the U.S. "National Strategic Computing Initiative", my paper investigates the ways in which governments employ and operationalize this rhetoric of competitiveness. Employing discourse analysis to official communications, I map out the discursive space of supercomputing policies and show how this extends to the scientific field.

Panel F06
Making science and diplomacy: historical and contemporary entanglements