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Could Home PCs Soon Predict the Future?

Los Alamos scientists say desktop crystal ball is near 

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Affordable home computers powerful enough to predict at least some aspects of the future may soon be available, according to scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Now, don't get your hopes too high, because the Los Alamos scientists are not working on computers capable of foreseeing winning lottery numbers. "We want to predict the future because we want to make good decisions, from wearing the right clothes for the weather to evacuating people from danger," said Andy White of the Laboratory's Computer and Computational Science Division. Notice that Andy did not rule out PC's capable of making great stock picks.

Later this January, White and his team will talk about their progress in future-predicting PCs during a series of lectures with the enticing title of "A History of Predicting the Future: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Computers."

"My talk will examine our interest and confidence in, and our ability (or lack thereof), to predict the future," said White.

White plans to examine the last hundred years of progress in predicting the future, emphasizing computer models of weather and wildfires.

"For some things, we have a long way to go, but for others we have achieved 'perfection,'" he said. "Long-range weather prediction is generally considered impossible, yet there are some ways to beat these odds."

More than 10 years of research by the Laboratory into how to model global climate and its effort to develop faster-than-real-time methods to predict the course of a wildfire will be part of White's talk, including the interplay between weather and fire and the state of the art in wildfire prediction. He also will explain the fundamental changes in computers that have helped make such advances possible, resulting from technological progress and changes in the marketplace.

"The next best computers may originate from a surprising source and their predecessors might be in your home today," White said.

Los Alamos has been at the frontier of electronic computing from its founding 60 years ago. Led by Nick Metropolis, Los Alamos built MANIAC, one of the first supercomputers and developed techniques to simplify the computation of physical and biological processes. Enrico Fermi and Stan Ulam performed the first computer experiments to reproduce the non-linear behavior of chemical bonds between atoms. The Laboratory's leadership in high performance computing continues to this day.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

Los Alamos develops and applies science and technology to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism; and solve national problems in defense, energy, environment and infrastructure.

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