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Dan Reed on Why We Compute

Microsoft’s Dan Reed writes about two things that motivate us to compute and run simulations. In the first instance, he describes the exhilaration one feels when an idea takes shape in code, begins to execute, and behaves in unexpected ways.

The second reason is that computing is an intellectual amplifier, extending our nominal reach and abilities. I discussed the power of computing to enable and enhance exploration in another CACM blog. (See Intellectual Amplification via Computing.) It is why those of us in computational science continually seek better algorithms and faster computer systems. From terascale to petascale and the global race to exascale, it is a quest for greater fidelity, higher resolution and finer time scales. The same deep yearning drives astronomers to seek higher resolution detectors and larger telescope apertures. We are all chasing searching the ghostly signals for landmarks.

It is our ability to apply our ideas and their embodiment in code to a dizzying array of problems, from the prosaic to the profound, that attracts and compels us. It is why we compute.

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