The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page strenuously objects to any government involvement in developing technologies, reports today that the American system is attempting to rally behind a leadership position in supercomputers in hopes of staying ahead of China and Japan.
Reporter Don Clark describes how a University of Illinois research center has awarded a contract valued at more than $188 million to Cray Inc., to build one of the world's most powerful supercomputers after IBM withdrew from the project. The project, called Blue Waters, is led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, located at the university's campus in Urbana-Champaign, where I have visited.
Total spendng on the project, which is partly funded by the National Science Foundation, is estimated at $300 million. The field of supercomputing, Clark writes, "has long been dominated by U.S. suppliers and customers, but the development of record-setting systems in Japan and more recently China has set off alarms in Washington, D.C., that American leadership is slipping."
So the government, in the form of NSF, is working with a major educational institution and other partners such as the state of Illinois. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications also is supported by other federal agencies according to its website, http://www.ncsa.illinois.edu/AboutUs/. Cray obviously is a private sector player and is seen as the champion of American hopes of retaining leadership in this field.
In my view, this is an example of how the American system can coalesce to find common interests among different institutions and achieve a national goal. The Wall Street Journal calls this "picking winners and losers." But if we don't pick the industries where we want to be competitive, China and Japan and other countries will dominate them because they have no ideological hang-ups about collaboration among governments, educational institutions and businesses. If we don't pick, we will only lose.