Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Better Living Through Alchemistry?

Detail of Jan Steen's 17th century painting The Village Alchemist with the ACSII Red Supercomputer

As ordinary and heavily plugged-in Americans discover increasing governmental monitoring of all seemingly ordinary functions of daily life, a plaintive wondering can be discerned through more old-fashioned and less technical devices; “What can 'they' (the government’s spy services) possibly want to accomplish with records of dialed phone numbers?”
One might more effectively ask General Hayden or Dick Cheney why alchemist’s wanted to transmute lead into gold or why ancients made the difficult journey to Delphi.
Across history, some leaders lead while others seek the foggy misplaced solace of fortune-tellers.
These benighted aficionados of locked, smoky laboratories have, across time, desired the reduction of their perceived reality into a graspable economic control or, for the post-modern taste, a graspable supercomputed model.
It is, as human storytellers have long documented, a well-trod path fraught with danger to any fragile mortal soul.
Without grimy pestles and as far as can be understood by our puny human minds, today’s power-savvy seeker desires a grail-like supercomputing system capable of nearly infinite calculations per second.
According to open information available on the Internet, the world calculation record of 1.34 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS) was achieved in June of 1997 on the massively parallel ASCI Option Red Supercomputer (9, 216 Pentium Pro processors, 4, 536 nodes, 594 Gbytes of RAM and two independent 1Tbyte disk systems) built by Intel for the United States Department of Energy and having a “system footprint” of 1, 600 square feet contained in 85 cabinets.
An Intel .pdf document, An Overview of the Intel TFLOPS Supercomputer, promises “a supercomputer…that can run at the [calculation benchmark] rate of 100 trillion floating point operations per second.”
But, according to that same Intel document, “a machine is justified by its ability to run applications” and not its ability to achieve mathematical world records.
Some supercomputer applications have modeled the weather, some the stars and others have modeled human behavior in aggregate.
The obvious and possibly alchemical goal of increasing the number of computations per second will be “huge multi-physics” scenarios within a more epic and realistic super model.
The unstated transmutational byproduct of such vast multi-model scenarios, perhaps partly achieved with ongoing representations of all global telecommunications, is to map and, thus, predict and control human reality itself.
The secret strangelovian interstices of our hubris-challenged military-industrial elites have, like ancient alchemical lairs, been filled with the hallucinogenic and possibly contradictory smoke of a likely quantum mechanical maguffin.
How apropos and ironic for the leader-free and neo Christian Bushies to lose themselves in such a feckless, dangerous and ultimately unproductive pursuit.

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