President Obama wants the U.S. to build the world's fastest computer. And he's not asking.

Every president gets one moment to encourage America to do something really, really impressive.

JFK inspired us to go to the moon.


And Stanley Kubrick really made it look like we did! Photo via Pixabay.

George W. Bush pitched putting people on Mars by 2030.

15 more years! 15 more years! Photo by NASA.

And President Obama finally had his moment this past week when he challenged all Americans to come together as one and...

...build a really, really fast computer.


One that can run Oregon Trail and WordPerfect at the same time. Photo by Cornellanense/Wikimedia Commons.

OK, so it's not as flashy as going to the moon or Mars. But it's still a pretty big deal. Possibly an even bigger deal.

'Cause Obama doesn't have just any computer in mind.

He wants America to build the world's fastest computer. By 2025.

He issued the challenge in the form of an executive order to boot. So, technically, he ordered us to build the world's fastest computer.

Second term, balls-to-the-wall, IDGAF Obama, FTW.

According to Chris Baraniuk at the BBC, the kind of computer Obama has in mind could actually be a pretty big technological leap forward.

And not just in a highly-technical-scientific-techno-I-don't-totally-understand-this-but-OK way, but in some pretty neat, tangible ways that affect lots of folks' daily lives:

"The US is seeking the new supercomputer, significantly faster than today's models, to perform complex simulations, aid scientific research and national security projects.

It is hoped the machine would help to analyse weather data for more accurate forecasts or assist in cancer diagnoses by analysing X-ray images.

A blog post on the White House website
also suggests it could allow NASA scientists to model turbulence, which might enable the design of more streamlined aircraft without the need for extensive wind tunnel testing."


A computer that will give us better weather and climate data? That's awesome. It could even legit help us rescue the planet.

A computer that will carry out super-advanced cancer screenings? That could save lots of real human lives.

And turbulence is ... really, really annoying. I'd sign up for having a giant supercomputer design planes that can move through it like it's NBD.

All good.

Which raises the question...

Can we actually build it?

It's probably going to be pretty expensive, requiring an annual electricity bill of around $90 million per year. And it's going to require a lot of really smart people thinking really smart thoughts for a lot of hours to get us there.

But think about it.

If we could go from this:

OK, so this isn't the plan for 2025 after all. Photo by Cornellanense/Wikimedia Commons.

To this:

Photo by Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images.

In the span of a little more than 20 years...

It's pretty cool to think about how much further we can go in the next 10 years.


Photo by Alistair McMillan/Flickr.

OK, we might have to wait another few decades for the Enterprise computer.

But with POTUS backing the project, I bet those fancy future weather forecasts are gonna be pretty neat.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less