The Method: Supercomputers and the Human Brain

Jan 25, 2017

Credit Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Forty-seven years ago, filmgoers got a taste of the dark side of the burgeoning field of computer technology. In Colossus: The Forbin Project, a supercomputer gains sentience and turns on its creators – and humanity. The idea that supercomputers will eventually overwhelm the humans that created them is a common theme in science fiction and fantasy. And it usually doesn't end well for the humans.

But the reality of supercomputing is far different than the books and movies that posit human subjugation to computers. The world’s third-most powerful supercomputer is located in Oak Ridge, and though it bears the imposing name TITAN, its goals and capabilities are more quotidian than dystopian.

On this edition of The Method, a look at what TITAN is, and what it does. First up, a conversation with Jack Wells, the director of science for the National Center for Computational Sciences. He speaks with host Brandon Hollingsworth. Then, WUOT's Megan Jamerson tells us about a project at ORNL that uses TITAN to help humans digest vast sums of information from medical reports. If successful, the project could create new understandings about the demographics of cancer.