From 2001 to Star Trek, space missions run by a supercomputer are a sci-fi staple. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) says its new system, dubbed “The Machine,” could orchestrate a mission to Mars by foreseeing any chain of events and heading off problems before they happen. Likewise, it can monitor every computer on a corporate network for the subtleties that portend a cyberattack like WannaCry, says Kirk Bresniker, chief architect at Hewlett Packard Labs.
Today, HPE debuted its first full-scale version of The Machine, which it’s already testing on predicting cyberattacks. (At 2:20 p.m. ET today, Bresniker will discuss a Mars mission on Facebook Live.) In place of hard drives, The Machine features 160 terabytes of RAM. Today’s computers are optimized for tasks like looking up results in a database where it’s possible to predict and queue up the next data it will need to load, says Bresniker. The Machine is for big-data jobs where a computer can’t predict where things will lead. “You’re just as likely to want to get to any one byte in your 160 terabytes of memory as any other byte,” he says.
The Machine’s memory, called fabric, is a network linking many CPUs, graphics chips, and other processors through laser-light connections. That saves copying and shuttling information through a hodgepodge of slower interfaces and intermediate steps, says Bresniker, allowing The Machine to move data over 1,000 times faster. Memory fabric harkens to a human brain, which distributes storage and calculation throughout rather than having a central processor. Despite that similarity, Bresniker doesn’t foresee a Mars-mission computer developing the paranoia of HAL in 2001.