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1 Welcome Robert M. White National Academy of Engineering Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to our symposium on supercomputers. This symposium was organized by both our Academy Industry Pro- gram, which seeks to strengthen the interactions between industry and the National Research Council, and our Computer Science and Technology Board, which, on behalf of both academies and the National Research Council, is responsible for the oversight of developments in computer sci- ence and technology and for providing advice on computer activities to various groups in the federal government and to others. Certainly the digital computer and its applications have now become ubiquitous. Each generation has its own supercomputer. These, the most powerful computers produced by our industry, have characteristically opened new avenues for exploration in industry, government, research, and engmeermg. In welcoming you to this symposium, I would like to comment briefly on the application of supercomputers in three branches of geophysics that are among the most active users of supercomputers and have been since the advent of large-scale digital computers. These are weather, atmospheric and ocean studies, and seismic analysis. I was privileged to go through the period of watching weather fore- casting being transformed from an art to a science, beginning in about the mid-1950s. Today it is impossible to think about a weather forecast without 3
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4 ROBERT M. WHITE thinking about the application of supercomputers to that activity. Super- computers, for purposes of weather forecasting, are now literally scattered throughout the world. It is also important, considering the growing national and international concerns about the greenhouse problem, to recognize that the only way we have had to simulate and experiment with the consequences of increasing concentrations of infrared gases in the atmosphere has been by modeling atmospheric and oceanic systems with supercomputers. All our information, all our forecasts, and all our predictions about possible consequences of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases stem from the application of those mathematical models and their integration on supercomputers. We have in this audience individuals who are deeply familiar with the applications of supercomputers in a third area, seismic exploration. These are areas affecting industry, government, and research that have been totally and utterly transformed by the supercomputer and the various generations of the supercomputer, and these are fields that still remain limited by the present capacity of supercomputers. We can use almost whatever capacity can be developed and provided for us to make better forecasts, understand the climate better, and model stratigraphy in the earth so please, keep at it. But supercomputers have transformed not only these fields but also many, many other fields, as this symposium's participants will alarm. It is the ability of large computers to simulate large and complex systems whether they be physical, chemical, social, or economic systems that makes them so central to social and . . . ~ economic progress and to progress in our understanding of nature. A concern shared by Senator Albert Gore, Jr., and the other partici- pants in this symposium is the challenge the U.S. computer industry faces from abroad. This is a serious and important challenge. It is a contest where we dare not come in second. We hope that this symposium will communicate at least in part what is at stake.