How next-generation computers will transform what’s possible for the federal government – ​​MeriTalk

The Accenture Federal Technology Vision highlights four technology trends that will have a significant impact on how government works in the near future. Today we look Trend #4, Calculating the impossible: new machines, new possibilities.

When Intel introduced the Intel® 4004 processor in 1971, the first general-purpose programmable processor was the size of a small fingernail and contained 2,300 transistors. Today, state-of-the-art microprocessors incorporate 60 billion – same 80 billion – transistors.

For federal agencies, the trend toward ever more powerful computers has brought about significant new efficiencies and discoveries. Yet we are now approaching the physical and technical limits of Moore’s Law, the guiding framework for advances in computing over the past five decades. In its place, new computing approaches are emerging, fueling a range of new federal use cases.

Quantum computers, high-performance computers (HPCs), and even bio-inspired computing all promise to accelerate innovation and expand existing capabilities in federal space.

Federal leaders brace for impact. In an Accenture survey, ninety-seven percent of US federal executives say their organization is pivoting in response to the unprecedented computing power becoming available. The same percentage indicates that the long-term success of their organization will depend on using next-generation computing to solve seemingly intractable problems.

With increasingly powerful machines coming to the fore, agencies need to start thinking now about how best to use these emerging capabilities to take full advantage of the opportunities they present.

What’s coming

Of the types of next-generation computing, quantum is currently receiving the most attention because it promises to be so disruptive and transformative. Quantum computers use “qubits”, which can be both 1 and 0 simultaneously, rather than being limited to one or the other. This quality of qubits allows quantum computers to run more complex algorithms, process millions of calculations simultaneously, and operate much faster than traditional computers.

Quantum machines are well suited for solving optimization problems incorporating a large number of factors and criteria, giving decision makers greater visibility into the entire landscape of possible solutions. The most immediate use cases for this type of capability include greater efficiency in planning or supply chains, as well as supporting financial services or manufacturing industries.

Then there’s HPC, or massive parallel processing supercomputers. The most mature next-generation computers, HPCs help organizations leverage large volumes of data that may be too expensive, time-consuming, or impractical for traditional computers to manage.

HPCs typically rely on different hardware and system designs – where multiple computer processors, each tackling different parts of a problem, are wired together to operate simultaneously. This allows them to solve more complex problems that involve large amounts of data.

HPC is already having an impact on federal agencies. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is developing its Kestrel supercomputer to answer the key questions needed to advance the adoption of cleaner energy sources. And three federal departments — Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Energy — have jointly leveraged HPC to accelerate COVID-19 research.

Waiting in the wings is “bioinformatics,” which relies on natural biological processes to store data, solve problems, or model complex systems in fundamentally different ways. This could have implications, particularly for data storage: one estimate predicts that DNA could store an exabyte of data in a single cubic centimeter of space, with high reliability.

A related capability, “bio-inspired computing,” draws inspiration from biological processes to address challenges in areas such as chip architectures and learning algorithms. Pilots have shown that this emerging field can provide benefits such as increased power efficiency, speed and accuracy in solving more complex problems.

These examples help demonstrate the potential of edge computing to enhance the federal mission. In fact, 68% of US federal executives say quantum computing will have a revolutionary or transformational positive impact on their organizations in the future, while 55% say the same for high-performance computing.

Forging the agencies of tomorrow

Next-generation computing will have ripple effects on the federal government whether agencies act or not. The computers that will create and power the next generation of governments and industries are already being built, and agencies must be part of that wave or risk being swept away by it.

One of the best-known effects is the predicted impact of quantum computing on cybersecurity. The clock is currently counting down to Q-Day, or the day when everything running on computer systems – our financial accounts, government secrets, power grids, transportation systems, etc. – could suddenly become susceptible to quantum energy cyberattacks.

Q-day is an event with incredibly serious implications for national security and the day-to-day operations of our digitally connected society. Comprehensive new approaches to cybersecurity, such as crypto-agility, will be needed to prepare agency security architectures for the day.

For decades, computers capable of effectively solving major global challenges have been theoretical concepts. But companies can no longer afford to think about it in the abstract. They are improving rapidly, and their impact on our most fundamental issues and metrics could be the greatest opportunity in generations.

Agencies that begin to anticipate a future with these machines will have the best chance of taking full advantage of the opportunities available, while preparing for the risks.

Learn more about how agencies can take advantage of next-generation computing in Accenture Federal Technology Vision 2022 Trend 4: Computing the Impossible.

Authors:

  • Chris Copeland: Managing Director – Chief Technology Officer
  • Chris Hagner: Managing Director – Head of Technical Innovation and Engineering, National Security Portfolio
  • Justin Shirk: Managing Director – Head of Cloud GTM, National Security Portfolio
  • Mimi Whitehouse: Senior Emerging Technologies Manager
  • Garland Garris: Head of Post-Quantum Cryptography
  • Mary Lou Hall: Chief Data Scientist, Defense Portfolio