Iran Is Building an AI Supercomputer With or Without U.S. Processors

A recent tweet announces that Iran is well underway in efforts to generate its own globally competitive supercomputer.

Iran is making a big play at present to compete in the ever-deepening trenches of global information technology. Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister of information and computer technology, tweeted last weekend an announcement of a current supercomputer project, already in late development, to be launched next year and which he promised would be “100 times more powerful than previous ones.” 

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Translating the tweet, verbally and otherwise 

Translated from Persian with masterful help from Google, this tweet reads:

The Simorgh Iranian supercomputer is due to launch next year: 100 times more powerful than previous ones, great! This supercomputer will support businesses with the goal of developing artificial intelligence. Thousands of happy young and creative creators. Thanks guys!

The name “Simorgh” derives from an ancient Iranian mythological bird, very like the Phoenix in other lore, that is gigantic, universally benevolent, and unilaterally female.  This represents an interesting symbol for Iran’s supercomputer—a replete sort of union between the country’s past and its dream for the future.

What are those dreams, exactly?

Twice a year since 1993, an organization called Top500 has ranked the world’s supercomputers. Iran has already established itself as a force to be reckoned with in scientific fields in 2016 when it was ranked 15th in the world by National Science Foundation for quality and number of engineering and other science-based publications in peer-reviewed journals and books.

With AI-based industries essentially leading the technological business world these days, the common belief is that Iran would like its new supercomputer to rank on the global scale as well by making the Top500 list. 

Where does the black market come in?

Nearly every developed country in the world is working on some kind of supercomputer so that they can compete and keep up with the economies and capabilities now dictating global trade, innovation, and security. Hewlett Packard Enterprise is responsible for helping countries like France reach this goal.

Because they run on a parallel processing system, carry vaster memory technologies, and contain greater internal storage, HPC systems are regarded as highly integral components in any effort to generate a competitive program that can move data beyond industry-standard speeds. Due to trade sanctions placed on Iran by the United States government, Iran cannot openly or legally buy Hewlett Packard parts at this juncture, and may have to turn to the black market in order to get the chips it needs to create its supercomputer.

So where does that leave plans?

Iran has had no problem in the past sidestepping American sanctions, best illustrated in 2007 when the country produced a Linux-based system utilizing 216 AMD Opteron cores. Plans for this newest supercomputer effort have met with public reactions inside and outside Iran that range from joy to derision. We won’t collectively find out until next year if Jahromi’s tweet was founded on fact or misplaced boasts. 

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